U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists working at George Bush Intercontinental Airport recently discovered an invasive fungus in a cargo shipment of Pacaya that required the importer to take immediate action upon notification as the shipment would not be allowed to enter the U.S.
The shipment of Pacaya which are the edible flowers of date palms originated in Guatemala and its stems were infected with fungi that could devastate crops if introduced. Pacaya is frequently imported to Houston. It is the only palm that yields an edible blossom; it is a traditional as well as a commercial food item.
CBP agriculture specialists obtained samples of the diseased stems during its examination and forwarded specimens to the U.S. Department of Agriculture where specialists determined the disease to be Colletotrichcum sp. (Glomerellaceae); which lives and feeds on plants. This fungus infects a wide variety of hosts causing plant disease in important crops worldwide. The importer decided to destroy the agriculture commodity after receiving the emergency action notification advising that the shipment would need to be removed or destroyed.
“This discovery is an example of the dedication and commitment of our agriculture specialists to protect our nation’s agriculture industry,” said Houston CBP Port Director Shawn Polley. “Preventing pests and plant diseases from entering and taking hold in our forests, crops and neighborhood gardens starts at the ports of entry around the country by men and women fully focused on agriculture shipments imported to the country.”
According to a National Institutes of Health study, Colletotrichum species ranks eighth in the top 10 fungal pathogens and can include a range of species from 29 to over 700. If the fungi was allowed to establish itself in the southern part of the United States, it would affect the production of high value crops, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, mangoes, and avocados.