Officials say a widely detected avocado fungus could threaten lucrative crops in the area. Tena Ezzeddine reports from Ontario for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30, 2013.
Avocado is a favorite food among many – but the crop could be in danger in parts of Southern California.
A tree-killing fungus has infested more than 100 different types of tree species, including the avocado tree.
Plant pathologist Akif Eskalen has been doing research at UC Riverside on the fungus. Eskalen first discovered the fungus in 2012 on backyard avocado trees in LA County, according to a peer-reviewed report published in a plant pathology journal.
Eskalen said an ambrosia beetle is to blame for the fungus. The beetle, which originates in Southeast Asia, has found a home in some trees in Southern California. The beetle carries a white fungus that can be seen oozing from the bark of infested trees.
"It can attack the small to the very large, 100-year-old trees," Eskalen said. "It’s very dangerous on landscape and some of the agricultural crops in Southern California."
The infestation has affected street and backyard avocado trees in the Inland Empire. Some trees in Ontario have been marked with a red "X" because the city plans to cut those trees down soon. Dead trees pose a harm to residents, as weakened limbs can cause branches to break and fall.
So far, the fungus has been found in San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego counties.
Scientist can’t control the beetle or the spread of the fungus, and the impact on crops like avocados has yet to be determined. However, there is concern because the fungus could threaten the fruit, which is a highly-produced crop in the area.
In 2012, 6,300 acres of avocados were harvested in Riverside County, according to a crop report from the county's Agricultural Commissioner's Office. Last year's harvest was valued at nearly $39 million.