What I believed to be white mould, turned out to be mealy bug.
And it’s not just in our garden – there’s an island-wide outbreak of it.
It’s affected mango, lychee, and pawpaw orchards, and well as vegetable crops, and ornamental plants.
The worst-affected in our garden were the hibiscus, gardenias, Madagascan frangipanis, pawpaw, and mulberry.
The mango tree next door is covered in it, and unfortunately, as it overhangs our Square Foot Garden bed, the mealy bugs have spread to the basil, peas and beans, by way of falling leaves and baby mangoes.
We sprayed the ornamental plants with Amidor (active ingredient Imidacloprid), and are spraying homemade white oil on the edible plants (2 parts vegetable oil shaken in a jar with 1 part dishwashing liquid, then diluted at the rate of 2 tablespoons to 1 litre of water).
We also had to radically prune some of the plants to remove the worst-affected parts.
Needless to say those prunings did not go into the compost!
Everything will need a close eye kept on it for the foreseeable future, as it’s going to be a recurring problem.
A Lesson Learnt the Hard Way
According to an article in last week’s paper, the Mauritian Government’s solution to the infestation, is to introduce a parasitic insect from India that eats mealy bugs.
Do people never learn?
In the 1930’s in Australia, the sugarcane industry in Queensland fell prey to cane-destroying beetles. The government imported cane toads from Hawaii to eat the beetles.
Unfortunately, the beetles lived at the top of the canes, and as the toads couldn’t jump more than a couple of feet, they looked elsewhere for their food source.
They ate all manner of native insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles (basically whatever they could cram into their mouths), thereby both killing the native fauna, and reducing the amount of food available to other native critters.
On top of that, they’re poisonous, so anything that ate them died.
Since then, they’ve spread from the cane fields of Queensland, down into New South Wales, across the Northern Territory, and into the north of Western Australia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and well-established colonies wherever they’ve been.
Each female lays between 8000 and 35000 (!) eggs during each bi-annual breeding season, and the cane toad’s average life-span is 5 years.
In 2011, it was estimated that there were 2 billion cane toads in Australia.
There is no estimate of the number of creatures they’ve gobbled down or poisoned over the last 80-odd years.
And no-one knows how to stop, yet alone eradicate, them.
Mauritius is like Australia – an island with endemic fauna.
There is no telling what the introduction of this new insect will do in the long run, and the fact that, in India, it’s successful at controlling mealy bugs with no adverse effects doesn’t mean a thing – Mauritius is not environmentally identical to India.
Also, what will they eat once the mealy bugs are gone?
I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but surely this type of thinking is short-term, and the potential for disaster, limitless.
All that one can do is to hope that a) it works, and b) the long-term impact on the environment is a positive, or at least, benign one.
I’m reminded of that children’s song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then swallowed a bird to catch the spider…
I guess if the introduced insects become a problem, the Government can introduce something else that eats them…cane toads, perhaps – Australia’s got plenty to spare.
And then some!