Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: How Big Is the Impact of That Little Brown Moth?

By Ron Sullivan
Friday May 04, 2007

Word is that the “recommendations” and “suggestions” from the agriculture officials about the recently discovered infestation of the light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana, hereinafter LBAM) has grown into a state-declared quarantine.  

This pest is so inconspicuous that it took a retired entomology professor to notice what had blundered into his blacklight trap. Now that the hunt is on, specimens have turned up as far south as Monterey County. As of last week, about two thirds of captures have been in a small area there; the rest were mostly in Marin, San Francisco, western Contra Costa and Alameda counties, with scattered finds as far east as Danville.  

Aside from flying moths that turned up in some of their 11,000-plus pheromone traps, inspectors had found caterpillars and pupae in one San Francisco retail nursery and two production nurseries in Santa Cruz County. They treated that stock with chlorpyrifos.  

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) said a pending federal order will require inspection and certification of all nursery stock and host commodities – produce, flowers, other plant material—from the quarantine area, which is pretty much what the state DFA has declared already. As of May 1, the federal APHIS Web site had nothing new posted on the matter; not surprising, as the boundaries are in flux. 

What does this mean for East Bay gardeners? The quarantine would “prohibit the movement of all nursery stock and all host fruits and vegetables and plant parts within or from the quarantine region unless it is certified as ‘free-from’ the pest by an agricultural official; is purchased at a retail outlet; or was produced outside the area and is passing through in accordance with accepted safeguards.” The CDFA also says the quarantine “applies to residential and community properties as well as commercial enterprises.” A complete list of host species is available at CDFA’s Web site. 

Steve Lyle of CDFA said, of people holding plant sales: “It’s not a blanket prohibition on the movement or sale of plants. If you’re holding a sale, call your county ag office to get an inspector there beforehand.” 

Retailers, he said, “are used to this stuff; they have inspection protocols already. It will add one step, some time and expense to their operations. Plant inspectors are always busy anyway just before Mother’s Day.” 

Regulators are asking that, for example, produce from school gardens be eaten on the premises—but, as Lyle notes, “a lot of them do that anyway: use it in classrooms or in the school lunch program.”  

Basically, though, the problem is with moving uninspected plant bits from within the (unfortunately ever-changing) quarantine zone to any area outside it. Don’t take that home-grown bouquet to the Mother’s Day gathering in Fresno, please, and do some homework before throwing a benefit plant sale: look up the list of host plants and the quarantine maps on the CDFA site—the public library branches have computers, if you don’t—and call the county folks in to look over your stock. They’ll be busy, so call early.  


CDFA’s LBAM Web site, with complete current information: www.cdfa.ca.gov /phpps/pdep/lbam_main.htm