Drive the Key and you might notice many of its plants have lost their luster.
There’s a culprit behind the drooping leaves, browning fronts and black sooty mold that you’ll see throughout the island: the rugose spiraling whitefly.
Now, many residents are taking action to fight the small winged insects that have been spreading throughout South Florida over the past few years. The pesky insects have made their way to Longboat Key.
Sleepy Lagoon resident Cee Edmundson said whiteflies infested virtually every plant in her yard, including birds of paradise, traveler palms and banana trees, earlier in the season.
“It’s just about everything,” she said. “The only plant in my yard not impacted was the ponytail palms.”
According to Edmundson, treating infested plants topically is ineffective. She compares it to giving a flea-infested dog a bath instead of treating it with prescription Advantage flea medicine. The most effective form of treatment is a combination of drenching an entire yard with insecticides while also injecting the chemicals into the trunk of palm trees, all of which should be done by a landscaper with experience in treating whitefly.
Edmundson’s plants improved since she spent approximately $1,000 for treatment.
Former Mayor George Spoll spoke to the Longboat Key Town Commission in February about the insects’ impact Key-wide, especially on banyan trees. Spoll told the Longboat Observer he also shared his concerns with the Bay Isles Master Association.
“I believe there was follow-through at the individual associations,” he said.
In the Longbeach Village, approximately 15 coconut palms along Broadway are browning because of whiteflies.
“It’s on every single road on Longboat, but it just happens to be a statement coming down the road on Broadway,” said Michael Drake, president of the Longbeach Village Association.
Drake said he has been treating palm trees in his own lawn at a cost of approximately $100 per tree but wants the town to consider paying for treatment of the 15 coconut palms on Broadway that the town planted.
“My question to the town is, are you just going to let them run dry?” Drake said. “I look at $1,500 to save 15 trees as a fairly economical way to spend money.”
Although whiteflies can cause plant decline, defoliation and branch dieback, they generally aren’t lethal to the host plant. The town doesn’t treat whitefly because of the costs and the fact that most of the impacted plants are on private property.
Whitefly: What plants are affected?
Plants affected by whitefly range from palms to woody ornamentals and fruits. Thus far, gumbo limbo, banana, black olive, copperleaf, broadleaf arrowhead, cocoplum, Brazilian pepper, wax myrtle, live oak and mango are known to have been affected in South Florida.
Affected plants have a white waxy, sticky material that covers the leaves and also excessive sooty mold.
To learn more about whitefly, visit the town’s website, longboatkey.org.