Homeowner accounts of white fluffy woolly masses on woody ornamentals have been on the rise. They can appear on the ends of a wide variety of woody ornamental branches in the landscape. A closer inspection of these white woolly masses can provide the curious observer with a startling surprise. “It’s Alive!” It moves and seems to jump at you, most likely jumping away from you. Once you have recovered from the mildly frightful encounter, you ask yourself, “What was that?”
They are planthoppers (Metcalfa pruinosa), an insect in the order Hemiptera. The common name for this woolly looking planthopper is the citrus flatid planthopper (CFP). As the name implies, they occur on citrus but can also be found on many woody ornamentals and fruit trees. The adult planthopper wing arrangement is tent-like, meaning that the forewings are held over the insect abdomen in a tent configuration.
The nymph, young immature insect, produces the white woolly material that is characteristic of CFP. At first sight, they can be mistaken for mealy bugs, which may look similar since they are covered with cottony white filaments. They can also be mistaken for cottony cushion scale.
In both of these cases of mistaken identities, the insect will not jump or hop around. No chemical control is necessary although sooty mold can occur on heavily populated plants. In that case, a soapy water treatment can be applied.