The mood: Moving through the garden in that dreamy, rapturous state that a gardener effortlessly attains when
perusing spring growth early in the morning, usually trailing the hem of a robe on clammy bricks while drinking a
steaming cup of coffee.
The object of desire: The cineraria which has just opened aster-blue flowers at the top of 4-foot lush stems and leaves
and is snuggling into the shimmering embrace of a golden duranta growing at the base of the smoke tree ‘Grace.’
This isn’t the dumpy florist’s cineraria, but the species, Senecio stellata, elegant and tall in stature. I’ve been eagerly
awaiting its bloom, expecting tints somewhere on the magenta/purply/blue spectrum. On a garden tour in Orange County,
California, last spring, photo below, I had seen this cineraria seeding in shade under some shrubs and then tracked down
a source of plants to Annie’s Annuals. Apparently, San Francisco, California, is the only place on earth where the
unadulterated species flourishes, and Annie had selected a strain to sell called Senecio stellata ‘Giovanni’s Select.’
The horror: Never-before-seen scale creatures on my golden Duranta repens.
The duranta, unless cut back hard like the treatment I give mine, has orangey-golden berries in fall. But what was
studded on my duranta that morning, as I pressed close to admire the cineraria beneath, was the stuff of nightmares,
and I recoiled in horror and fled. That was a couple days ago.
Since then, the shock of discovery gradually turned to sober plans for eradication. At first they appeared to resemble
fungal spores, possibly an attack brought on by the recent rainy weather.
So which was it, fungus or insect? Inspection under a loupe wasn’t much help. To my untrained eye, they looked
more like tiny sand dollars. Their arrangement on the branches was typically that of scale, but it was certainly the
creepiest looking kind I’d had the good fortune to never have encountered before.
Today, armed with loppers, all infested branches were cut out from the center of the shrub. Outer branches
seemed unaffected. Hopefully, sunlight and good air circulation will be the best disinfectant.
With the infestation now under control and in the trash bin, the cause of science seemed to have been most cowardly
and shamefully neglected. So I grabbed the camera and, steeling myself, took a few photos of the
unidentified horrific scale pest in situ in the trash bin for ID purposes later. Then headed straight for the shower.