Florida eyes grapefruit trees for signs of canker

Brown and yellow lesions found on grapefruit tree leaves by citrus canker inspectors have sparked a search for the tree-destroying disease in southwest Florida. ``We hope we don't find any canker,'' inspector Beatrice Wright said of the search started Tuesday. ``We don't think it's canker [in Bonita Springs], but we'll take a sample of leaves just to be sure.''

It will be about a week before laboratory tests confirm or reject a diagnosis of canker, said inspector Irma Conley.

Inspectors will search southwest Florida neighborhoods this summer, checking some 130,000 more Lee and Charlotte County backyards than were examined last summer, said V. Anne Kemmerer, Fort Myers-area supervisor for the state-federal citrus canker project.

She said 1,250 trees in area backyards were destroyed last year when inspectors learned that the trees could have been exposed to canker.

Canker is a bacterium that is harmless to humans or fruit pulp used for juice but mottles fruit and saps the strength of trees. It also causes early fruit drop. The only cure is burning infected trees.

Since its August 1984 discovery in Florida for the first time in five decades, state officials have ordered some 18 million trees destroyed out of concern that canker would cripple the state's $2.5 billion-a-year citrus industry.

The most recent canker find was two weeks ago in 138 yards on Anna Maria Island about 85 miles north of Fort Myers, said Henry Schmidt, a spokesman for the Winter Haven-based citrus canker project.

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