Holly bushes are in the Ilex family of plants, most of which are characterised by spiky leaves. The American holly is a classic large bush or small tree that has bright berries and often is used to brighten mantles at Christmas. Holly bushes are very hardy plants and can take a lot of punishment. There are not a lot of diseases or pests that can kill them, and it is difficult to diagnose an insect solely by colour. The main pests that infest holly are miners, soft and hard scale and mites. Of these, mites and scale are the likely culprits.
Hollies are easy-to-care-for ornamental plants. They produce brightly coloured berries that birds feast on in the winter. The glossy, sharply-pointed leaves are a natural fortress against most pests. The few insects that do bother to live in the plants cause very little damage and hollies rally quickly when the pests are removed. Most of the insects that infest holly plants are sucking feeders that eat the plant's sap. This causes a reduction in plant sugars for the bush to use but it can rapidly replace the food in photosynthesis. Holly bushes also have an excellent sturdy root system with a huge taproot that assists in nutrient- and moisture-gathering.
Mites are not exactly "white" insects. They are really too small to see with the naked eye. Their presence is first noticed by the webbing they spin on leaves and especially on terminal buds. The webbing is whitish and opaque and has tiny little white specks in it. This is not the mite but rather eggs in the webbing. The eggs start out dark but turn creamy coloured as they get close to hatching. The mites are usually dark with red spots at one end, although there are several species.
There are several varieties of scale that could be plaguing the holly bush. Florida wax scale is white when young and form round domes over the insect. It is a soft scale and is a sucking insect that will reduce the vigour of the plant. Horticultural oils have some control but they need to be applied on top and bottom of the leaves and in a consistent patter to be effective. Male tea scales are white and they produce a white substance on the leaves with sticky film. They are present year around and should be dealt with immediately to enhance the health of the holly bush. Cotton scale has the appearance of fluffy white bumps and can be removed by hand.
Two-Banded Japanese Weevil
This insect is a small beetle with two distinct colours. It is a soft creamy brown and a whitish grey. Not altogether white, but a very light coloured insect. It is a chubby pear-shaped insect that lays white eggs which in turn hatch off-white larvae. It has become a common predator of landscape ornamental plants and feeds on the foliage, causing impacting damage. The Two-banded Weevil is an imported insect that is now in the United States in New England, Florida and across Illinois to Indiana.
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- Arkansas Home and Garden: Shrubs-Holly
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Holly
- University of California-Davis: Holly- Ilex
- North Carolina State University: Some Major Arthropod Pests of Holly
- University of California-Davis: Spider Mites
- Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: The Two-banded Japanese Weevil