Paul Bittick

Cal Poly’s Horticulture Unit and various greenhouses on campus have been quarantined since federal agriculture officials found a passion-vine mealybug in some of the plants last week.

It is believed to be the first time that the passion-vine mealy bug has been reported within American borders, other than at ports or airports where contaminated fruits and plants were not allowed in.

“This is a non-native pest, so we do not want it introduced into California agriculture at large,” said Bob Rice, an agriculture professor.

Rice is a specialist in integrated pest management and is currently heading the mealybug investigation on campus.

The pest was discovered during a yearly routine inspection and all samples were sent off to Sacramento for testing. Out of the 29 mealybugs sampled so far, four returned as positive passion-vine mealybugs.

“The main point is that we don’t want them leaving the (horticulture) unit,” Rice said.

Although the pest has closed off several areas throughout campus, having the first mealy bug in the United States is also a learning experience for Rice and his students.

“This has been a great teaching opportunity for my students and they have been very involved in the process. But it is starting to affect some other students,” Rice said.

Last weekend’s Tomato Mania sale was postponed for precautionary reasons due to the mealy bug but will be rescheduled if all of the tomato plants pass the inspection.

Environmental horticultural science senior Patrick Grady said that the insects are starting to become a nuisance for him and his classmates.

“It was exciting at first to have the first passion-vine mealy bug found in America, but now seeing what it has done to our learning environment it has become a big pain,” Grady said.

Grady’s senior project is located in one of the greenhouses that have been shut down due to the insects. He is currently unable to work on it.

As more samples come back negative, federal officials are lessening restrictions on which greenhouses will remain closed, Rice said.

Cameron Sharp, another environmental horticulture senior and a student in Rice’s disease and pest control systems class, said that they get to talk about all the information available with Rice.

“He shares information directly with us. We know what it is, where it came from and what it feeds on,” Sharp said.

Because it is the first of its kind in the United States, the students are trying to learn what pesticides will work upon the mealybug, Sharp said.

Until sample testing is completed in Sacramento, the horticulture unit and Cal Poly Plant Shop will remain closed to the public.

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