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African anti-thrips plant

A plant in Kew’s Temperate House has been found to contain compounds toxic to thrips.

An infestation of western flower thrips has caused ‘silvering’ on the petals of this flower of Crotalaria capensis (Image: Alison Scott-Brown)

Thrips are serious economic pests on a wide range of crops grown around the world, causing damage to both plants and fruit through feeding, reproduction and the transmission of plant tospoviruses. Rapid spread in the global distribution of some thrips species has led to records of plant hosts increasing at a rate which exceeds both the increase in our knowledge of host plant selection and the development of control agents or control strategies to eliminate or contain emerging thrips populations.

Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) and glasshouse thrips (Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis) are key species that continue to escape the controls currently used to protected crops in North America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Both frequently cause damage to their numerous host plants grown in the glasshouse collections at Kew.

Temperate House survey reveals plant toxic to thrips

A study at Kew was undertaken to record the morphological and chemical characteristics of plant species in the Temperate House that remained free from thrips attack. The foliage of one species in particular, Sclerochiton harveyanus (Acanthaceae), an evergreen shrub native to south eastern Africa, appeared to be toxic to thrips. Analysis of leaf extracts revealed the presence of iridoids, including four new compounds in this group.

Bioassays indicated that some of these were toxic to Frankliniella occidentalis and deterred Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis from feeding. Understanding the mechanisms involved in plant resistance to thrips could lead to the develpoment of new thrips control measures in environments where current techniques have limited success.

Item from Dr Alison Scott-Brown (Research Entomologist, RBG Kew)
Kew Scientist, issue 40

Article Reference

Scott-Brown, A. S., Veitch, N. C. & Simmonds, M. S. J. (2011). Leaf chemistry and foliage avoidance by the thrips Frankliniella occidentalis and Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis in glasshouse collections. Journal of Chemical Ecology 37: 301–310.

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