Bromeliads Shouldn’t be Blamed for Zika Spread
Author: Celeste Booth12 Comments
With the recent spread of the Zika virus, which is mostly transmitted by the Aedes mosquito species, bromeliads have become the focus of blame in South Florida. Because the water tank of a bromeliad can be used as breeding ground for mosquitoes, bromeliads have found themselves under the spotlight as being a major contributor of the Zika-spreading mosquitoes.
While the reasoning of this blame comes from a good place, we cannot be so quick to condemn these plants. Let’s take a quick look at what we know, and how we can safely eliminate or reduce the mosquito’s breeding chances.
What We Know
Health officials in Florida have ripped out thousands of bromeliads from public parks and spaces, and have recommended homeowners do the same. Unfortunately, this safety measure comes with little science to back it up. While it is true that the water tank of bromeliads provides a nice place to reproduce, it is most significantly the Wyeomyia species of mosquito (a species that does not carry Zika) that has been found to breed in bromeliads. There is no research that suggests that the Aedes aegypti mosquito hangs around or breeds in bromeliads in droves.
While “better safe than sorry” is often a good rule of thumb, it might not justify the massive effort to rip out each and every bromeliad. In fact, Florida benefits from over $35 million in bromeliad sales annually. Some are worried about the repercussions of eliminating all these plants due to a similar situation that occurred less than 10 years ago. In an attempt to abolish the spread of a certain bacterial disease, authorities made the decision to remove hundreds of thousands of citrus trees. Many trees cut out were healthy and their disposal had a measurable negative impact on the economy in that particular area.
How to Safely Continue to Grow Bromeliads
With a little attention and effort, you can reduce or nearly eliminate the use of bromeliads as breeding grounds for mosquitoes — of any species. Regularly flushing the bromeliad tank will prevent stagnant water which appeals to insects looking for a place to lay their eggs. Using a bacterial larvicide, such as mosquito dunks, will also create an unfavorable environment for mosquitoes. Finally, remove spent leaves and dead blooms and keep the general area clean and free of excess materials.
Caution, but not Eradication
There are two areas in Florida that have tested positive for active (non-travel) Zika transmission: Miami Beach and the Wywood Arts District. As a precaution, all bromeliads have been ripped out of these areas. However, other counties with no reports of Zika have begun removing bromeliads as a cautionary measure as well. While the urge to do something (even removing hundreds of healthy plants) might seem like the right move under the view of a critical public eye, this effort will likely not help contain the spread of Zika. In fact, it may instead contribute to bromeliads being stigmatized and rashly eliminated. Until/unless bromeliads are shown to be a major contributor to the spread of Zika, eradicating bromeliads may be more damaging to the plants and horticulture industry itself. Proper care and plant maintenance will allow bromeliads to continue to flourish in Florida without being branded with a bad name. Rather than blatantly blame bromeliads, let’s help the public understand it’s not bromeliads we should fear, but the improper maintenance of any plants or unattended pools of water.
USDA Census of Agriculture
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Learn how to care for your Hechtia bromeliad with this quick and easy informational guide.Learn More
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