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Publication #PP-214

Field Identification of Citrus Canker Symptoms and Decontamination Procedures 1

Mongi Zekri, Megan Dewdney, Jamie Burrow, and Pamela Roberts2

Identifying Citrus Canker

Citrus canker, caused by the bacterial pathogen Xanthomonas citri subsp. citri, is a serious disease of citrus. Most citrus cultivars are susceptible; grapefruit, Mexican lime, and some early oranges are the most susceptible. 'Navel,' 'Pineapple,' and 'Hamlin' oranges are moderately susceptible. Mid-season oranges, 'Valencia' oranges, tangors, tangelos, and other tangerine hybrids are less susceptible, and tangerines are tolerant (Fig. 1). The disease causes necrotic dieback, general tree decline, premature fruit drop, and fruit blemishes. Severely infected trees become weak, unproductive, and unprofitable.

Figure 1. 

Necrotic canker lesions on grapefruit stems, leaves, and fruit

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The citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella) has increased the vulnerability and susceptibility of citrus trees to canker. Leaves and stems damaged by the citrus leafminer are more likely to be infected because the wounds allow the bacterium to easily penetrate the tissue (Fig. 2). When leafminer feeding galleries become contaminated with the bacterium, the number of lesions and the area infected greatly expand and result in enormous inoculum production. The leaf lesions sometimes fall out, leaving holes. This is known as the shot hole effect and is most common with old grapefruit lesions.

Figure 2. 

Canker lesions in leafminer galleries on upper side of leaf

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Leaf Symptoms. Lesions appear within five to seven days under warm, moist conditions between 82ºF and 86ºF. The early leaf symptoms appear as slightly raised, tiny, blister-like lesions (Fig. 3). When leaf lesions are young, the yellow halo is most prominent (Fig. 4). As the lesions age, they turn tan to brown, and a water-soaked margin appears surrounded by a yellow ring or halo. The center of the lesion becomes raised and corky. The lesions are usually visible on both sides of the leaf (Fig. 5).

Figure 3. 

Young, blister-like lesions of citrus canker

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Figure 4. 

Young lesions of citrus canker with yellow halo

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Figure 5. 

Old lesions of citrus canker displaying the shot hole effect

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Stem and Twig Lesions. Stem lesions often indicate infection has been present for at least a year. They serve as a reservoir for persistent inoculum and are able to produce inoculum for up to four years. When they occur on woody tissue, they are the same color as the branch but have a raised, wart-like surface (Fig. 6a). Symptoms on twigs and fruit are similar and consist of dark brown or black raised corky lesions surrounded by oily or water-soaked margins (Fig. 6b). As the lesions mature, they appear scabby or corky

Figure 6a. 

Young lesions of citrus canker on young twigs

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Figure 6b. 

Young lesions of citrus canker on young twigs

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Fruit Lesions. Young lesions are raised, blister-like, tan, and can be surrounded by yellow halos, depending on fruit maturity (Fig. 7). As lesions age, they become dark brown to black with brown to black sunken, corky centers, and they may have yellow halos (Fig. 8). Old lesions often have a gray appearance. Generally, the lesions are circular and vary in size. Lesions cause blemishes and early fruit drop, thereby reducing fruit yield (Fig. 9). The internal quality of the fruit is not affected.

Figure 7. 

Young, blister-like canker lesions on fruit

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Figure 8. 

Old lesions of citrus canker on grapefruit

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Figure 9. 

Fruit drop caused by a severe canker outbreak

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Decontamination Procedures

Citrus canker is highly contagious and can be spread rapidly by wind-driven rain, storm events such as tornadoes and tropical storms, equipment, and human movement within groves (Fig. 10). Movement of infected or exposed trees, seedlings, and propagative material is the primary means of spreading the canker pathogen over long distances. Contaminated clothing, tools, lawnmowers, and other landscaping equipment, as well as ladders, containers, and other items associated with harvesting are also potential sources for transmission to susceptible tissue.

Figure 10. 

Citrus canker life cycle

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Decontamination is a key practice to prevent the spread of citrus canker. Before decontaminating, remove any limbs, fruit, soil, or leaves from yourself, vehicles, and all equipment. This includes small personal items such as hats, jackets, and picking sacks. Leave any debris on the property to prevent further spread. If the grove location has an automatic decontamination spray system in place, confirm it is working properly before proceeding through it (Figs. 11a, 11b, and 11c). Due to mechanical issues or lack of solution, it may not be fully operational. Since all citrus groves do not have automatic decontamination stations or the system may not be functioning properly, it is best for grove workers and managers to be equipped with spray bottles of personal and equipment decontamination solution (Fig. 12). If an automatic system is not available, a hand spray bottle for personal decontamination is sufficient. The decontamination solution is like a mild soap. Using the spray bottle, apply a light mist to your arms, hands, and the bottoms of shoes. A rule of thumb is if it came in contact with a citrus tree, then apply the decontamination solution; therefore, it may also be necessary to apply it to your chest and legs.

To decontaminate vehicles and equipment, a one-gallon garden sprayer is simple and lightweight for storage and transport. When applying, begin spraying at the top of the vehicle and/or equipment and move downward until the spray material is running off. Other areas to spray include, but are not limited to, the tops of tool boxes, tires, and wheel wells. Unless it is designated as a two-in-one solution, the decontamination solutions are intended for either personnel or equipment. Do not use the solution designated for equipment on your skin as it is harsher than the personal solution. Equipment decontamination solutions should be checked monthly for quaternary ammonium chloride (QAC) concentration to ensure effectiveness.

Figure 11a. 

Automatic personnel decontamination station

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Figure 11b. 

Automatic vehicle and equipment decontamination station

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Figure 11c. 

Large tank used for storage of decontaminant for automatic systems

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Figure 12. 

Types of spray bottles

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Decontamination training is required annually for grove workers and harvesters. Trainings can be scheduled through local UF/IFAS Extension offices. Personnel are required to decontaminate upon exiting a grove. The exception to this rule applies to harvesters. Harvesters are required to decontaminate upon entering and exiting a grove regardless of whether an infection is known to exist. State regulations require all vehicles and equipment exiting citrus groves to be decontaminated. A grove owner/caretaker may also require decontamination upon entering groves. If you suspect citrus canker, provide a digital photo to your local UF/IFAS Extension office or an Extension citrus agent for assistance with identification and management options. You may send a sample to the UF/IFAS SWFREC Plant Disease Clinic in Immokalee, a branch of the Florida Plant Diagnostic Network.

Additional Information

For more information about citrus canker, visit these websites:

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Approved Decontamination Products and Methods

Citrus Canker Extension Program

Citrus Health Response Program

Citrus Leafminer, Phyllocnistis citrella Stainton (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Phyllocnistinae)

UF/IFAS Extension Offices

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

UF/IFAS Florida Extension Plant Disease Clinic

UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center

UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center

UF/IFAS South Florida Research and Education Center

UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center



This document is PP-214, one of a series of the Plant Pathology Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 2005. Revised June 2015. Visit the EDIS website at


Mongi Zekri, citrus Extension agent IV, UF/IFAS Extension Hendry County; Megan Dewdney, assistant professor, Plant Pathology Department, Citrus Research and Education Center; Jamie Burrow, coordinator, Canker, HLB, and Exotic Diseases Extension Education, Citrus REC; and Pamela Roberts, professor, Plant Pathology Department, Southwest Florida REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.