Plant experts begin bacterium battle

The government has declared an emergency to fight a bacterium that is attacking ornamental palms and coffee plants. The disease caused the European Union to ban Costa Rican ornamental plants in May.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley said that the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, has been linked to a serious outbreak among olive tress in Apulia, Italy, and that researchers there traced the strain to Costa Rica.

In addition, the bacterium has been detected on Costa Rican citrus trees since at least 2005.

The Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado said that 20 million colons, some $38,000, has been earmarked to fight the disease. The plant health agency is working with the Cámara de Plantas y Follajes Ornamentales de Costa Rica to open the way for Costa Rican ornamentals into Europe again. Experts from there are supposed to visit the country at the end of the year.

An ornamental coffee plant from Costa Rica was found with the bacterium in France, according to online sources.

Plant pathologists at Berkeley know about the disease because grape vines there can become infected. However, they said in a Web site dedicated to the bacterium that the strain in Italy is one that never has been detected in the United States.

The ornamental plant business in Costa Rica provides jobs to at least 600 workers.

The disease, like many plant illnesses, is spread by insects.

The Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado said it would begin an effort to determine how widespread the bacterium is here.

The European Food Safety Authority said that the bacterium is transmitted by certain types of sap-sucking hopper insects and that the current outbreak has affected 8,000 hectares of olive trees in the Puglia region of Southern Italy.  The bacteria can be hosted in a very broad range of plants including almond, peach, plum, apricot, grapevines, citrus, coffee and olive as well as oak, elm, Ginkgo and sunflower, the authority said.

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