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Whiteflies are the latest invader to South Florida

whiteflies in west palm beach florida yard

Florida’s climate offers nearly perfect conditions for non-native tropical and subtropical species. Every year seems to bring new reports of some exotic, invasive species into our backyards. From pythons to even the tiniest insects, these invaders disrupt our local ecosystem and destroy our local flora and fauna.

South Florida’s latest invader is the whitefly. Three species of whitefly have emerged in South Florida since 2007. First the ficus whitefly, then the Rugose spiraling whitefly, and now the Bondar’s nesting whitefly. While each whitefly has its own unique traits, there are only a few pieces of information you need to know about them. All three whiteflies feed in a similar manner: they typically feed on the underside of leaves with their needle-like mouths. Whiteflies can seriously injure host plants by sucking nutrients from the plant, causing wilting, yellowing, stunting of growth, leaf drop, or even death. These flies are very small and difficult to see with the naked eye, which makes identification of early symptoms very important.

The ficus whitefly has made headlines because of its love for ficus hedges. Ficus is this insect’s preferred meal and because they feed so voraciously, they have made headlines in Palm Beach, where residents treasure the privacy provided by their thick ficus hedges. The ficus whitefly has been so destructive in Palm Beach that the city has put in place an ordinance requiring residents to take care of whitefly infestations.

The spiraling and nesting whiteflies have broader appetites. The spiraling whitefly has been reported to feed on gumbo limbo, black olive, cocoplum, Brazilian pepper, wax myrtle, live oak, mango, and a variety of palms, notably areca and coconut palms. A sure sign of spiraling whitely is if you see a white spiral on the underside of a leaf. Spiraling whitefly gets its name from the pattern in which it lays its eggs. Spiraling whitefly and Bondar’s nesting whitefly are especially nuisance pests because they secrete a substance called “honeydew.” This honeydew doesn’t cause lasting damage to infested trees, but it can damage outdoor furniture and flooring because this sticky substance encourages the growth of black sooty mold, which tends to stain surfaces such as wood and concrete.

Both curative and preventative treatments are available for plants susceptible to whitefly. Fertilization is also key. A healthy tree is more likely to withstand the damage of whitefly than a tree that is not getting enough nutrients. For more information on treatment for whitefly, contact Nozzle Nolen for a free evaluation.

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