Flora of the Week--Florida Wax Scale
Ick. Big white buggy things on my
! First, the camera. Then to the internets to find out who or what the scoundrel is. Our first observations were: largish (for such things), globular, white, no apparent legs or other "insect" features--had to be a parasite.
starts life much smaller. The eggs fill the cavity beneath the body of the mature (or dead) female (pictured left). There is no male of the species. The young nymphs hatch out over a period of two to three weeks to continue or spread the infestation. Nymphs are brown or reddish in color and number in the hundreds. Thorough application of a dormant oil or soil-applied systemics are the only known effective control at the nymph stage. To see some really great photos of these early stages, check the Texas A & M site below.
We were fortunate in that we appear to have a mild infestation of the adult form. Once the nymphs "settle in" to a location on a host plant, they burrow their little mouth parts into the stem or leaf and start sucking out the sap of the plant. They then begin building up the waxy coating (which can be white, gray, beige or even pinkish) that we first observed. Scales excrete honeydew, which fosters sooty mold, making the leaves or branches of the plant black and sticky.
My chosen method of dealing with this small plague was to don a pair of gloves and squish the buggers into oblivion. (Eew.) Scale of any variety weakens (and sometime kills) the host plant by shear volume of sap removed from the plant. These larger, soft-bodied scale can, at least, be squished. Removing them caused a red, blood-like juice which was a little disconcerting--but I got over it really quickly. You can see the underbelly of the scale in the bottom photo (partly hidden by a crumb of dirt).
Part of what may have contributed to the infestation was an accumulation of mulch around the main stem of each plant. When I pulled back the mulch and leaves, each plant had at least two of these adult forms at the very bottom of the trunk, where only 3 of the seven had anything above that point.
Infestations of this pest are on the rise--both sources for this article made note of the increase in Texas. While we never saw evidence of the nymphs--they can't have traveled far to get to our hollies. With any luck, we've nipped this group of breeders in the bud without the use of pesticides.