Apr 032011

Yesterday, as the pollen swirled around, Mr. Olive Crazy and I attended a wedding. On the way to the wedding and in between sneezes we discussed a question I received after my Friday article, “Georgia Olives Below the Gnat Line“: “Why is the USDA quarantining other varieties of olive trees? Don’t we need more varieties in the U.S.?”

We didn’t get too far in the discussion before our attention was diverted by the car that needed gas, the GPS that wouldn’t load, and the many requests of “pass the tissue box please”. The wedding was lovely. My husband swore his pink-tinted eyes and throat clearing were from the pollen. I let him preserve his dignity.

The flute was the featured musical instrument at the wedding. To my surprise and delight who should the flutist be but non other than my dear friend Liz Crane-Wexler, USDA scientist, down from DC just for the occasion. I couldn’t wait for the reception.

At the reception I waited until everyone got refreshments and settled in before getting down to Olive Crazy business. Fortunately, Liz came and sat right next to me and asked me how the olive world was doing. I filled her in and then told her the question I’d been asked. She was only too happy to answer.

“We can’t let kudzu happen again,” Liz said.

“You mean, like an invasive plant,” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “and we have to make sure we don’t introduce any foreign pests and diseases that our native plants and animals aren’t resistant to or that don’t have natural predators available here. Just like kudzu, we have fire ants here in the South. Fire ants arrived in Mobile, Alabama on a South American cargo ship in the 1930s. At the USDA we try to make sure problems like kudzu and fire ants don’t happen again”

“But, what about the different olive varieties that are being held in quarantine,” I asked.

“Those varieties are not native to the U.S. or even North America and arrived from overseas in wooden packing crates which could have had pests lodged between the slats. We have to inspect the plants for known pests and diseases, then let them go through the growing process since some pests, diseases and other problems don’t present themselves for many years,” explained Liz. “It is all done to make sure we are safe.”

I thanked her for the explanation and am glad such measures are in place even if we have to wait around five years for a quarantined olive variety to be released.

When I got home last night I did some research. Here is the link to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. It has a lot of interesting information.

May the sun shine through your branches.