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State and federal regulations governing plant pests in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project

In order to protect the plant industries and agriculture from the introduction of new pests, new regulations are formulated when needed. However, more than regulations are required to keep new pests from establishing in Massachusetts. Grower education about potential pests that could show up in fields or greenhouses is an important supplement to yearly nursery inspections. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and UMass Extension Agriculture and Landscape Program are currently collaborating on the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project to help prevent new pests from establishing in Massachusetts. The project will provide presentations at conferences and a website that includes fact sheets, online reporting, and email pest alerts to inform growers about new pests. Early detection and cooperative actions between growers and state and federal agencies will aid in preventing new pests from establishing in Massachusetts. Containment and eradication efforts when a new pest is found in the state will help to protect plant industries.

State and Federal Laws and Regulations

Plant pests and noxious weeds are regulated both at the state and federal level. The Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 128, the Plant Protection Act of 2000, the Agricultural Bioterrorism Prevention Act of 2002, and the Code of Federal Regulations Title 7 Chapter 3 (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services) all contain regulations to protect plant and agricultural industries from the threat of insects, pathogens, and noxious weeds. Many of the laws and regulations, as well as information about the pests these laws regulate, are available to the public on government websites. Website information is included in the references section of this article.

Rules and regulations of the federal government are primarily to govern imports from other countries and interstate movement of plants (except under the Bioterrorism Act). However, movement of plant pests, pathogens and noxious weeds within the state of Massachusetts are governed by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 128. The following is a summary of the state laws as they currently stand:

Sections 16 and 24 give the Director of Regulatory Services and his assistants the right to enter public and private property to inspect for noxious weeds, insect pests, and plant diseases that are "likely to cause loss to adjoining owners". The Director has the authority to prescribe a method of treatment to abate a pest found on any property and a deadline to complete that treatment. If a landowner objects to the proposed action, the landowner has the right to file a written appeal. If the appeal is denied by the Commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources or no appeal is made, the landowner is responsible for carrying out the prescribed treatment. If the landowner refuses to carry out the treatment, the state can conduct the treatment and charge the landowner for the cost of treatment. In Massachusetts the Director of Regulatory Services is Brad Mitchell, Department of Agricultural Resources, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA, 02114, (617) 626-1771.

Section 31 of Massachusetts law allows the Director to issue an order prohibiting the transport of "any specified tree, plants, shrubs, or other vegetable growths or products" with the approval of the Commissioner which have an insect pest or disease that is likely "to spread to other parts of the Commonwealth or to other states". Before issuing this order the Director must hold a public hearing and advertise the order in a newspaper that circulates in the town(s) where the order will be in effect. Emergency provisions allow for an order to put in place prior to the hearing in the event of an emergency.

Important Greenhouse Pathogens

Puccinia horiana (causal agent of chrysanthemum white rust), Ralstonia solanacearum, Race 3, Biovar 2 (causal agent of bacterial wilt in geraniums), and Puccinia hemerocallidis (causal agent of daylily rust) are three important pathogens affecting the horticulture industry that are governed by different levels of regulation.

Chrysanthemum White Rust

Chrysanthemum white rust (Puccinia horiana) is a serious fungal disease of chrysanthemum. This disease was first described in Japan in 1895 and was confined to China and Japan until the 1960s. Today it is established in Europe, Africa, Australia, Central America, South America, and the Far East. White rust can spread quickly in greenhouse and nursery environments causing severe crop losses. Local outbreaks of chrysanthemum white rust have occurred in North America and have subsequently been eradicated. Eradication of this pathogen is feasible because P. horiana has a limited host range, requires green host tissue, and is a poor disperser. For photos and information on white rust, see the websites, and Chrysanthemum white rust is an example of a quarantine pest of significance in the United States and requires appropriate quarantine action when found.

Bacterial Wilt Bacterial wilt

Bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2) has received more attention since it was added to a list of biological agents and toxins under the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002. Why is the causal agent of bacterial wilt in geraniums on a list of potential bioterrorist agents? In addition to causing bacterial wilt in geraniums, R. solanacearum affects a large number of solanaceous crops important to U.S. agriculture including potato, tobacco, tomato, and peppers. There are different strains of Ralstonia solanacearum. R. solanacearum race 1 is well established in the southern U.S. but cannot survive in the northern portions of the U.S. R. solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2 is a cold tolerant strain not present in the U.S. that could survive winters in major potato producing regions. If this disease became widespread, the economic impacts on agriculture and risk to food security would be significant. R. solanacearum occurred in Massachusetts in 1999 in geraniums and was eradicated. In 2003, growers in Massachusetts purchased plants from greenhouses in other states that contained plants infected with the disease. As a result, greenhouses in Massachusetts were quarantined until plants were given a clean bill of health by Federal and State Inspectors. R. solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2 was not diagnosed in Massachusetts in 2003 but the strain (race 3, biovar 2) was confirmed in the greenhouses of suppliers.

R. solanacearum is extremely difficult to eradicate because it has a common alternative host, climbing or bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), that is asymptomatic. Also, this bacterium can survive in water and be transported along waterways or through irrigation systems. For photos and information on Ralstonia solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2, see the website On May 23, 2003, the USDA published a rule to amend its regulations. The rule requires all articles of Pelargonium spp. (geraniums) and Solanum spp. (potatoes, eggplants, nightshade, shrubs, and other garden plants) that are imported to the United States possess a phytosanitary certificate. This certificate states that plants are produced in a facility free from Ralstonia solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2 or that the plants originate in a region free from Ralstonia. The intent of this new rule is to prevent the introduction of race 3 into the United States.

Daylily Rust

Daylily rust (Puccinia hemerocallidis) was a quarantine pest, but has been recently deregulated at a national level. This disease was first detected in four states in the southeastern United States in 2000. As of January 2003, it was present in a total of 24 states. This year several cases have been reported in Massachusetts. Once a pest has been deregulated the state has no reason to take action to limit its spread through quarantine or other regulatory measure. A daylily rust fact sheet published on the UMass Floriculture website details how to detect, treat, and limit the spread of this disease. Excluding daylily rust from the U.S. failed for several reasons. Detection at ports of entry is difficult if foliage has been removed, few states had effective quarantine and treatment measures in place, and airborne spores require a short incubation time.

Other Important Pests

New regulations, such as the Agricultural Bioterrorism Act and new regulations regarding geranium imports, bring attention to the important issue of exotic pest introductions to United States which have been escalating with the increase in international trade and transport. At least three of the ten agents listed as threats to agriculture have accidentally been introduced to North America in the past ten years. These agents are Plum pox potyvirus (infects stone fruits), Ralstonia solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2 (causal agent of bacterial wilt of geranium and solanaceous species), and Synchytrium endobioticum (a fungus-causing potato wart in potatoes).

In addition to the diseases chrysanthemum white rust (Puccinia horiana) and bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2), growers should watch for Inula britannica (British elecampene or Meadow fleabane) , a perennial weed recently detected on hostas imported from the Netherlands. I.britannica is a perennial aster with showy, yellow flowerheads about an inch in diameter that occur singly or in clusters of two or three. Information on this weed is available from the website For more information on introduced pests visit the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project webpage at For disease diagnosis of greenhouse floriculture crops, growers should contact: Dr. Rob Wick, Dept. of Microbiology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, (413) 545-1045,

If Pests Are Found

If growers have plants with any of these pests, contact the Director of Regulatory Services, Department of Agricultural Resources (617) 626-1771. The Director will work with the grower to follow proper procedures in order to prevent further movement of the pest.


Prepared by:
Julie Callahan
Mssachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project
Department of Entomology
University of Massachusetts