Geraniums wither under terrorism quarantine

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SALEM, Ohio – Greenhouses got more than just bright red geraniums in their spring flower shipments: Many also got the threat of bioterrorism.

Quarantines on greenhouses with Ralstonia solanacearum-infected geraniums are increasing daily across the country. Ohio and Pennsylvania are the latest victims.

Not only does Ralstonia race 3 bolivar 2 kill geraniums, it can spread to potatoes and tomatoes. Because the race can survive colder temperatures and makes potatoes unmarketable, it’s a threat to food crops.

This risk is what placed it on the USDA’s top hazardous pathogen list under the Agricultural Bioterrorism Act of 2002.

Nevertheless, according to the USDA, the introduction is not thought to be intentional but instead due to unsanitary practices at the Kenya greenhouse that shipped the cuttings to the United States.

Possibility? So far, there is no evidence of infected crops, according to Steve Nameth, plant pathologist at Ohio State University, and he thinks it is unlikely that it will spread to potatoes.

But because of the potential, USDA is quarantining greenhouses with infected geraniums to limit its spread.

As of March 26, 763 nurseries across the United States were either quarantined or on hold, waiting to get their test results. Seventy-one cases were confirmed in 20 states.

Nameth said several cases of Ralstonia have been confirmed in Ohio and another half dozen nurseries are on hold.

The first U.S. cases were confirmed in February in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Multiple effects. Except to floriculturists, the disease is otherwise harmless.

“If it wasn’t for bioterrorism threats, no one else would even hear about it,” Nameth said.

It doesn’t hurt humans or animals and it isn’t a threat to other plants. Although infected plants die, it is a relatively short-lived disease, Nameth said. This is because once the geranium bedding plant season is over at the end of May, greenhouses get rid of the remaining plants. Thus, the disease is usually gone.

Although it isn’t a major problem for most consumers, floriculturists suffer economically and spend months, sometimes years, getting compensation from the company of origin for the lost crop, Nameth said.

This stands to be a big chunk of money considering Ohio ranks fifth in bedding plant production and geraniums are the most popular plant in flower beds, Nameth said.

The only worry for geranium lovers is that if they buy an infected plant, it won’t last long. As soon as the temperature hits 80 degrees, the plant will collapse and die within days, Nameth said.

Here… again. This isn’t the first time Ralstonia has been in the United States. It was confirmed in this country in 1999. This time, however, there is more concern because of increased sensitivity to bioterrorism, Nameth said.

In the previous incident, growers in the United States threw away their geraniums and the source in Central America was disinfected.

Nameth said plant materials are usually started in Third World countries and are shipped to U.S. greenhouses. Because of the tropical temperatures, rain and insects, he says this is the worst place to grow plant material as far as disease control.

Related Web site:

Ohio Florists’ Association

www.ofa.org

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