Banana Bunchy Top Virus Is Back

Banana Bunchy Top Virus, BBTV, has once again has made its appearance in central Moloka’i. 

BBTV was first discovered on Molokai in 2005.  Infected banana plants were killed and removed.  Subsequent disease survey indicated that Molokai was free of the BBTV.  However laboratory test conducted in November and December on suspected samples resulted in positive finding of the disease.

Banana is one of the most consumed fruit in the world.  No doubt Moloka’i has contributed to that statistic as many families are growing their own plants in their back yard.  Our geographic isolation has made it difficult for dreadful banana diseases to make it to our island.  Banana disease such as Panama Wilt has existed on Oahu for many years and has limited the banana varieties they can grow to Williams and the Brazilian.  Molokai has been fortunate to be free of the P. Wilt and able to produce other varieties such as Chinese and Bluefield.

Unlike Panama Wilt, BBTV is nondiscriminatory and will infect and destroy all banana varieties.  There is no plant resistance for this viral disease.  Banana Bunchy Top Virus is a disease that survives and moves in the vessels of the banana plants.  The disease is moved from infected plants and transmitted to other banana plants by aphids.  There is no anti virus solution that will cure the plant of the disease.  The infected banana plants will serve as a reservoir of the virus that can be moved to other plants by aphids.  While there is no regulation that requires anyone to destroy their infected plants, it is best for Molokai that infected plants be destroyed to keep the disease from spreading.  Experts recommend that infected plants either be completely destroyed mechanically or chemically.  Destroying plants mechanically means physical removal of the complete infected plant mat.  Chemical removal requires injecting each plant in the infected mat with herbicide Round Up Ultra.  The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources website provides detail information.

It is hard to imagine our Molokai neighbors, friends and farms without health banana plants and plumb yellow fruits.  It is hard to imagine neighbors and friends not sharing banana desserts at potlucks.  It is hard to imagine that we might need to look for something else for our kalua pig imu.  It is hard to imagine that after more than 1400 years that we will need to find 25 lbs of some other fruits we can consume every year.

Steps we can take to manage the spread of Banana Bunchy Top Virus on Molokai.

1.         Do not move banana plants from one part of Molokai to another.

2.         Inspect your plants for aphids and treat infested plants with insecticidal soap or dish washing soap, like Dawn.  Aphids usually hang around in the whorl of the young leaves or in the sheath of the leaves.  It is recommended the even with plants that are heath and without BBTV visual symptoms should be treated if aphids are present.  The sucking feeding habits of aphids can healthy weaken plants and make them more susceptible of diseases.

3.         If your plants are infected with BBTV, treat plants for aphids first, then destroy the plants.  If you have adjacent plants, you should consider destroying them too.  Although plants may be infected, they can grow without showing any visual symptoms up to 125 days.

4.         Look around neighboring plants around your area to see if any banana plants might be infected.  Notify your neighbors if you see other infected plants.

5.         Allow BBTV inspection or surveillance team to look at your banana plants.

6.         Molokai Contacts, for reporting and information:

UH/CTAHR/Cooperative Extension Service, Alton Arakaki @ 567-6934; Glenn Teves @ 567-6932; Rogerene “Kali” Arce @ 567-6935

Nature Conservancy/Molokai Invasive Species Committee, Lori Buchanan @ 553-5235 ext. 204

Hawaii Department of Agriculture-Maui, Bob Yonehara, 873-3558


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