Q: I have an issue that’s been haunting me all summer long. We have these things that look like elongated air plants on our bottlebrush tree, but my neighbor says they’re called Witches’ Brooms and that I don’t stand a ghost of a chance getting rid of them. She’s kidding, right?
A: No, she’s not, but don’t let that frighten you. Knowledge is power! Witches’ Broom is a nickname for Sphaeropsis gall, which is a fungal ailment affecting numerous woody shrubs and trees including citrus, hawthorn, bottle brush, crepe myrtle, ligustrum, and oleander. All of the common holly species are susceptible and can often be severely damaged by this disease.
The fungus gets its name from 1) the swollen and enlarged portions of diseased stems and branches, and 2) the galls produced on older branches and trunks. But another scary symptom is the “witches’ broom” effect, which refers to a proliferation of shoots and branches arising from diseased portions of branches.
You can deal with the infection by hacking off branches at least six inches below where symptoms are seen. Severely infected plants should be removed and destroyed (you can do this in broad daylight; no full moon is required). Unfortunately, no chemical fungicides are available to control this fungus. Pruning where symptoms are seen is your only way to break the spell of Witches’ Broom. Good luck.