Fig Thrips

Folded leaves with red spots may be caused by fig thrips

By: Sandy Feather ©2014
Penn State Extension

Q. I recently received a weeping fig tree as a gift, and I noticed that some of the leaves are curled and have reddish spots. They are starting to drop off the tree now. Do you have any idea what is causing this and what I can do to stop it?

A. Many tropical plants such as weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) are produced in large greenhouse ranges in the southeastern United States. A new pest was introduced into Miami-Dade County, Florida in 2003 known as the weeping fig thrips (Gynaikothrips uzeli) that causes symptoms such as you describe. The name thrips is both singular and plural. This pest is of great concern to interiorscape companies because it is very difficult to eradicate once it becomes established in an interior planting.

Bonsai Ficus

Recognizing damage

Adult weeping fig thrips typically feed on the upper surface of young, newly expanding leaves. This feeding activity causes reddish spots on the lower leaf surface, and causes the leaves to fold over, almost right in half along the midrib. Adults lay their eggs inside these folded leaves, and the immature thrips develop and grow protected by the leaf “tent.” Affected leaves tend to drop prematurely.


Thrips identification

This pest is relatively large for a thrips, and you should be able to see the adults with your naked eye. Their eggs are cylindrical and translucent, and young larvae are oblong and white with red eyes. Adults are dark brown or black, and are less than one-seventh inch long.

Where thrips feed

Weeping fig thrips only affect the tender new growth – they do not go after hardened off, mature leaves. Once thrips are protected inside their leaf “tents,” they are pretty well protected from insecticide applications. When management is required, one strategy to reduce the population of weeping fig thrips is to prune off and dispose of infested leaves. Be sure to tie them up securely in a plastic trash bag and get it out of the house ASAP. Then monitor new growth that sprouts for thrips on a regular basis – every few days at least. While many of the insecticides that commercial growers use to control thrips are not readily available to home gardeners, horticultural oil (SunSpray, All Seasons Horticultural Spray Oil) can provide good control and is safe to use. Avoid getting it on carpeting or furniture during the application.

Resistant varieties

While this pest can damage other species of Ficus, weeping fig is the only species where it can complete its life cycle. Ficus ‘Alii’ (Ficus binnendiijki ‘Alii’) seems to be resistant to weeping fig thrips and is less finicky than weeping fig; it rarely sheds its leaves as weeping fig is known to do, and tolerates lower light levels.


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