In the last week of June The Florida Keys Keynoter reported that a Home Depot store in Marathon, Fla., was forced to close down the garden center after the identifiction of pink hibiscus mealybug (PHM) on the property.
"The discovery of this serious pest forced the company to cease selling live plants and hire a company to spray its entire stock. That was done, and Friday, plant sales were reinstated," stated the article.
According to the article, Don Harrison, from the Home Depot communications department, said, "inspectors from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or possibly staff at the store, discovered two of the bugs on plants in the area. Agriculture inspectors are very aggressive in their inspections in South Florida and probably were the ones who found the mealybug. The inspections are particularly urgent in this area because many plants grown in South Florida are shipped all over the country."
Home Depot hired a firm from Broward County to spray all the plants in the garden center, The Florida Keys Keynoter said. "According to Harrison, the Marathon store was the only one affected at this point," the article added.
PHM is a serious agricultural pest of fruit trees, vegetables and ornamental plants and occurs in most tropical areas of the world. The insect has a life cycle of 24-30 days and can attack more than 200 plant species, including many found in Florida, such as hibiscus, mango, guava, citrus, avocado, tomato, cucumbers and peppers.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, PHM is a sap-sucking insect that forms colonies on the host plant. These colonies are covered with large cotton-like masses of white, waxy deposits on branches and leaves. As bugs feed, they pierce into the soft tissues of the plant, injecting a toxic substance that results in malformed leaf and shoot growth, stunting and possibly death. When fruits are infested, they are covered entirely in the white, waxy coating of the pest. The fruit will either drop off or remain in a dried and shriveled condition. If flower blossoms are attacked, the fruit will set poorly.
In the egg and crawler stages, PHM is most easily spread by wind, but it can also be spread by ants and other small insects, a person’s clothing or an animal’s fur. It can be identified from other mealybug insects by its reddish-brown, smooth body and pink-to-red body fluid. In cooler climates, the PHM overwinters on the host plant, either in the egg stage or as an adult. In warmer climates, insects may stay active and reproduce year-round.