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Pasadena Under Citrus Quarantine

Disease already devastating orange and grapefruit crops

Published on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | 11:16 am
The quarantined imposed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture cuts through Pasadena. Map available online at

Pasadena Now has learned that Pasadena is under a citrus quarantine and state officials are telling local residents not to take home-grown or non-commercial citrus fruit out of the area due to a slow-moving bacteria that has caused millions of dollars of loss across the country.

Commercial fruit purchased at a grocery store or a certified farmer’s market is exempt and may be moved.

The bacteria Huanglongbing (HLB), which cannot harm humans and animals has been detected in trees in a nearby community. While it has not been detected in Pasadena, the California Department of Food and Agriculture commonly establishes a five square mile quarantine from the detection. Pasadena falls in the quarantine zone.

HLB is a bacteria that clogs the circulatory system of a plant, according and starves it to death. It does not impact humans or other animals.

“Eating the fruit is totally fine, even if you’re in a quarantine area,” said Victoria Hornbaker, director of the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program Division at the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “What we want you to do if you’re in a quarantine area is not move any citrus fruit.”

Citrus has long been grown in Pasadena. Pictured is the first house built in Pasadena, in 1874. Notice the orange tree bearing fruit in the yard. Image courtesy Pasadena Public Library.

Hornbaker said potted plants, cuttings, stems and leaves also should not leave the quarantined area. Commercial fruit purchased at a grocery store is fine and can be moved.

Hornbaker said the fruit that has not been commercially clean could transplant bugs.

The disease has infected about 75 percent of citrus trees in Florida and placed the entire state in a quarantine zone, resulting in more than $4 billion in lost citrus. More than 26 million citrus trees have been lost in Brazil.

The bacteria can be transferred from one tree to another by the Asian Citrus Psyllid, a sap-sucking pest that can carry the bacteria from one tree to another as it feeds. The bacteria can also be transferred by grating cuttings from one tree to another.

HLB was first detected in 2005. Since that time, orange production has fallen by more than 75 percent, and grapefruit production is down 85 percent. Backyard citrus has virtually disappeared in some areas, according to reports.

It is illegal to take citrus fruit from a quarantine zone. Repeat offenders could be fined based on the severity of the offense.

“If we don’t act quickly, we could lose all fresh citrus within 10 to 15 years,” said Carolyn Slupsky, professor of nutrition and food science at the UC Davis in a story posted on the school’s website.

“Losing citrus would be devastating to people’s health and livelihoods and even change the way we cook and eat. No lime for our guacamole, no squeeze of fresh lemon on our fish.”

HLB has been detected in 1,700 residential citrus trees as of 2020.  Infected trees can live for years without symptoms, making it easier for the bacteria to spread unnoticed.

Trees infected by the bacteria experience stunted growth, bear off-season flowers, and produce irregularly shaped fruit with a thick, pale peel that remains green at the bottom and tastes very bitter.

Officials will hang traps and take samples of local trees for testing.

In 2017, a group of researchers with the University of California at Riverside received a $5.1 million five-year grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture to combat the bacteria.

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