Citrus trees in 3 counties quarantined

BEAUFORT -- Ned Rahn isn't sure where in Beaufort County federal agriculture surveyors found one of the world's most dangerous citrus pests. He just knows it wasn't on his trees.

Rahn and his wife, Faye, own 300 to 400 citrus plants near their home in Port Royal. They sell lemon, orange, grapefruit and lime trees to area residents, nurseries and landscaping companies.

A new state and federal quarantine will keep Rahn and other citrus growers in three South Carolina counties -- including Beaufort County -- from shipping trees out of the area.

The movement of citrus plants and plant material from Beaufort, Charleston and Colleton counties is indefinitely prohibited after a tiny bug, known to carry a bacterial disease that kills citrus trees, was found on backyard citrus in August and September during a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey.

"They didn't find any in my trees," Rahn said.

Though harmless to humans, the Asian citrus psyllid poses a serious threat to billion-dollar citrus industries in California and Florida. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences said the bug was one of the two most serious citrus pests in the world.

"South Carolina doesn't have a major citrus industry, so the purpose of the quarantine is really to protect those states that grow citrus commercially," said Christel Harden, assistant department head of the Department of Plant Industry at Clemson University.

The insect, which is smaller than one-tenth of an inch, is known to carry an as-yet incurable bacterial disease known as citrus greening. Citrus greening can cause fruit from infected trees to become bitter and eventually will kill the tree.