A Serious Threat to South Florida Landscapes

WHITEFLIES—Ficus and Gumbo Limbo

Several busy hurricane seasons over the last few years (notably 2004 and 2005) have caused two new, and potentially hazardous, pest problems to emerge in South Florida. The Ficus Whitefly (or Fig Whitefly) was the first to make its presence known. It continues to pose a serious threat to ficus hedges and trees that are left untreated.  More recently, in March of 2009, a larger whitefly was discovered on gumbo limbo trees in Miami-Dade County and has since spread to various parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties as well.,

The ficus whitefly can cause significant damage, and potentially kill, ficus hedges and banyan trees.  Although ficus appears to be the main host plant, there have been reports of this whitefly attacking sea grape trees and azaleas as well. The ficus whiteflies are at their most active in the late summer and early fall, but they can strike at any time of year.

Treatment of Ficus

X Terminator Pest Control uses a variety of methods, including root drenching, a topical liquid application, and granular systemic insecticides to eliminate ficus whitefly. The choice of application is based on the time of year. For the ficus whitefly a full spraying of the plant is recommended for immediate control. This is followed by either a drenching of the root base and/or an application of a granular systemic product applied to the root base to provide long-lasting residual protection. This treatment process can provide up to 6 months of protection and follow-up treatments are recommended throughout the year. It is very important that this treatment process begin either preventively or soon after whiteflies are observed.  Once ficus hedge is damaged too severely, it may not fully recover.

The gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly has a much broader range of host plants, including: gumbo limbo, black olive, mango, Brazilian pepper, cocoplum, wax myrtle, live oak and a variety of palm trees.

Much is still being learned about the gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly. What is known, however, is that the adult whiteflies are 3 to 10 times the size of other types of whitefly and move much more slowly.  Adult whiteflies congregate on the underside of leaves to feed and reproduce. The female lays her eggs in a spiral pattern on the leaves, depositing a white, waxy substance on the eggs. The crawler bug that hatches from the eggs starts to feed with its needle-like mouth-parts. The crawler will then molt and go through many stages. It is believed that most damage from gumbo limbo whiteflies is caused by the “junior” pest, rather than the adults.