Pests in your Plants? Call the Arizona Plant Diagnostic Network

Tucson, Arizona - Expert plant scientists and community liaisons in the Arizona Plant Diagnostic Network are ready to help diagnose pest-related issues in plants.

The Asian citrus psyllid, first detected in Arizona in 2009, is a sap-sucking insect of the family Psyllidae, responsible for spreading greening disease among citrus trees. It’s just one of the plant pests and pathogens from which the Arizona Plant Diagnostic Network works to protect Arizona’s plants. (Photo: David Hall/Agricultural Research Service – USDA)

Imagine an unknown insect has crawled into your backyard garden, inflicting them with a withering and never-before-seen condition. What do you do?

Call the Arizona Plant Diagnostic Network.

A network of plant scientists ready to help people across Arizona by identifying conditions that threaten the health of their plants, the AZPDN is a program in the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in cooperation with the Plant Services division of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.

The AZPDN recently published a list of community liaisons, the public's go-to guide of individuals who have expertise in one or more plant-related subjects and can assist members of the community in identifying plant problems. Community liaisons also coordinate with AZPDN diagnosticians if laboratory tests are necessary to identify a pest or pathogen.

Plant pests can damage native and garden varieties and devastate crops. Keeping close watch on the health of Arizona plants, and quickly identifying any new plant issues, can help to prevent spread of damaging plant diseases and pests.

Individuals concerned about a possible pest in their plants can submit digital photographs and samples to AZPDN experts for diagnosis. UA expert diagnosticians usually can identify plant issues with a simple digital photo. But if that proves inconclusive they can identify the pest or pathogen – be it bacteria, fungi, insect, nematode or virus – in their laboratories. 

"The AZPDN is intertwined with and collaborates with Cooperative Extension in that our extension specialists and extension agents are often the people on the front line that first see and diagnose plant diseases and identify pathogens, insects, and weeds in Arizona," said Peter Warren, the urban horticulture extension agent for Pima County and a community liaison for AZPDN.

"As a community liaison in Pima County, I work with homeowners, urban farmers, professional landscapers, and arborists to promote best management practices for horticulture in the Sonoran Desert through a variety of educational programs," Warren said.

The network also provides information on pest alertsplus the proximity to specific regions, to help community members prepare and protect their plants.

Coordinated through the Western Plant Diagnostic Network, a regional member of the National Plant Diagnostic Network, the AZPDN works to protect Arizona crops and garden plants from new and invasive pests and to report and control infectious outbreaks of plant disease.

But the AZPDN doesn't stand alone against pests or pathogens that may threaten plants in Arizona.

The network relies on first detectors – community members trained to recognize signs and symptoms of plant pests and to report them to UA plant diagnosticians and extension agents, and state and federal regulatory agents.

Anyone can be trained as a first detector with a two-hour training seminar led by AZPDN experts. 

"AZPDN brings together scientists from the University of Arizona and U.S. Department of Agriculture along with members of Arizona Department of Agriculture to help the agriculture communities in Arizona diagnose plant health problems, including insects, pathogens and weeds," said Ayman Mostafa, an extension agent who works in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

"Through our network of county-based and University-based experts, we can communicate and solve new and difficult problems before they get out of hand," Warren added. "When a new pest species enters the state, it is this group of people that can determine what action needs to be taken."