Inspection and eradication teams mobilized Wednesday to battle the first outbreak of citrus canker in residential trees, an outbreak that Florida Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner called alarming.
"It is alarming because it is on fruit . . . and it is on mature trees," Conner told reporters here.
Inspectors have discovered 47 "heavily infested" trees on Florida's Gulf Coast, concentrated in a section of Anna Maria Island across a bridge from Bradenton, Conner said. Two were in St. Petersburg, northward across Tampa Bay.
Laboratory confirmation was not expected until this weekend, but Conner said state experts were confident that the disease would be confirmed. He displayed a sealed jar containing yellow-and-brown mottled fruit and leaves, distinctive of the virulent bacterial disease.
Canker weakens and defoliates trees, eventually killing them, and scars fruit, but it is not harmful to humans. Canker exists in many areas of the world and is considered the most serious citrus disease because it is so hard to control and is easily spread. Florida had an outbreak about 50 years ago that virtually destroyed its young citrus industry.
Eighteen of the 20 outbreaks of canker discovered since it reappeared in Florida in August, 1984, have been in citrus plant nurseries. The other two were in replacement plants in immature groves. More than 20 million young trees have been burned to slow the disease's progress. The latest findings constituted a renewed threat to the state's $2-billion citrus industry, the largest in the nation. But so far, canker has not moved into mature, producing groves.
There were indications that the backyard trees were infested with a new, more powerful strain of the disease, but state officials said it was too early to tell for sure. Lesions found last week were on a wide variety of citrus trees, including navel oranges, grapefruit and limes. Earlier finds were primarily on Swingle rootstock.