By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer
State agriculture officials have extended their quarantine on growing bananas in North Kona after a resident was found growing plants infected with the bunchy top virus.
Officials suspect the resident transplanted infected plants from elsewhere in the Kona area, said Larry Nakahara, plant pest control manager for the state Department of Agriculture.
The quarantine will stay in effect until officials feel secure that the disease is no longer viable within the region. A quarantine starting Oct. 11 was to have remained in effect for three months, but the appearance of the infected North Kona plants in December forced the extension, he said.
The Big Island quarantine area is a roughly egg-shaped region bounded by Palani Junction in the north to the Kuakini Highway-Walua Road-King Kamehameha III Road intersection to the south, and from the treeline mauka to the shoreline excluding parts of Kailua-Kona and Kahaluu.
Officials destroyed more than 175,000 plants within this region from early 1999 to late last year.
State agriculture director James Nakatani said, "The department realizes that its frustrating and disappointing for people to have to continue to wait to replant. However, it is more important than ever that people obey the quarantine."
Once the ban on banana planting is over, the Hawaii Banana Growers Association will provide free, disease-free apple and Williams banana plants to Kona residents, the department said.
The virus is a serious disease to the banana industry. It is spread by sucking insects called aphids, and initially causes deformed fruits and then stops plants from fruiting.
It gets its name from the characteristic shrinking of leaves, forming a bunchy-top look to the plant.
The Big Island is the major producer in the states banana industry.
Anyone with questions or information about banana regrowth can call the Department of Agriculture on Oahu at 973-9522.
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