By Noelle H. Lowery
The beloved banana trees at Tommie Barfield Elementary School have a problem. They have been infested with the dreaded Rugose Spiraling Whitefly. Currently, the leaves of the trees are coated with the white eggs and honeydew left behind by the whitefly, as well as the sooty mold that grows from the clear, sugary honeydew. Anyone living on Marco Island knows these signs can mean death for trees and plants.
TBE Principal Dr. Jory Westberry turned the problem into a schoolwide science project. Dubbed the STEM project, all TBE students observed the plant problem and provided their own hypotheses on how to best take care of it. They even used Internet searches to research what options are available to eradicate whitefly. The very environmentally-friendly result: Use another insect that likes to east whitefly instead of using pesticides.
Enter Jeane Lefebvre (Mr. Jeane), the grounds supervisor of the Marco Island Marriott Resort and Spa, who brought his own brand of integrated pest management to help combat the whitefly infestation. He and TBE students and teachers recently released 300 fluttery green lacewing insects in the area of the banana trees. Lefebvre told students the green lacewing loved to eat whitefly, which makes it the prefect natural weapon in the fight.
Students will spend the next few weeks observing the results, and hope to see a positive difference in the condition and health of the banana trees.