Costa Rica and Panama are currently the only two countries in Central America still free of the huanglongbing (HLB) bacteria and its vector, the Asian citrus psyllid. HLB is considered one of the deadliest diseases for citrus trees. The disease is known in Spanish as the “dragón amarillo” (yellow dragon).
Costa Rica‘s orange trees were deemed healthy after the latest inspection of trees in more than 400 areas throughout the country by the National Phytosanitary Service (SFE), said Jorge Solano, the service’s staff person in charge of citrus production.
Solano said that it isn’t easy to detect the plague on orange trees in one’s backyard, as more common vitamin deficiencies that stunt orange trees can easily be confused with the early effects of HLB. According to the California Citrus Research Board, the disease can attack all citrus trees as well as closely related such as kumquat. HLB “produces small, hard, bitter, misshapen fruit; causes yellow mottling of the leaves; and is fatal to citrus trees,” according to information on the board’s website, www.citrusresearch.com.
If something suspicious on citrus trees is seen, Solano recommends contacting the nearest Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) office. Rather than taking in leaves or other samples, it is best if MAG does an on-site inspection, Solano said. An infected tree will eventually die.
Solano indicated that tree nurseries throughout the country have been notified of the possible arrival of the plague in Costa Rica, and have been instructed to grow all their saplings under tents to protect from any possible exposure to the bacteria. Newly planted trees take about three years to produce fruit, Solano said.
The flea-sized insect that is the HLB’s main bearer is readily transported by winds, and can be spread long distances by storms. This has caused concern that the disease could easily spread into Costa Rica from neighboring Nicaragua, where it was detected last year.
Solano said that the citrus industry in Costa Rica provides 20,000 jobs and brings in millions of dollars each year in export earnings.
An April 14 California State Senate Briefing Report on the issue stated, “The HLB and its vector have had a significant impact on citrus trees and subsequently citrus production around the world including Asia, India, China, South and Central America, Mexico and Florida. In Florida, where HLB was first detected in 2005, the disease has infected approximately 20 percent of all its citrus trees and costs approximately $300 million annually.”