Canna Leaf Rollers Are the Bugs Eating Your Cannas

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Learn about canna leaf rollers, the small garden pests leaving holes in your canna plants, and how to get rid of them.

Canna Leaf Roller Damage

Canna leaf rollers leave small circular marks in rows on canna leafs.Courtesy Heidi Petach
Canna leaf roller damage on an Indian canna leaf

Cannas are gorgeous plants that are prone to one pest, the canna leaf roller, as Birds & Blooms reader Heidi Petach of Cincinnati, Ohio, found out. She wrote to gardening expert Melinda Myers asking about some odd damage on her cannas flowers. Here’s what she said.

Heidi: My husband and I are totally baffled by what caused the damage on the Indian canna leaf on our deck. The rest of the plant looks healthy and we haven’t seen birds or insects attacking it. What could be happening?

Melinda: The straight row of holes on the leaves are typical of canna leaf rollers. These caterpillars are the larvae of the Brazilian skipper moth. They are more of a southern pest, so I am surprised to see this type of damage on cannas in Ohio. The moths lay their eggs inside the unfurled leaves of the canna. The eggs hatch and the larvae snack away on the plant. They often bind the leaf together with silken threads, creating a safe place to dine. There are a few easy ways to control caterpillars as garden pests.

What Does a Canna Leaf Roller Look Like?

Canna Skipper (Calpodes ethlius) caterpillars are transparent - the green you see is the food in its gut. They roll the leaves of Canna around them as they eat using silk.Jill Staake
Canna skipper caterpillars are transparent. The green you see is the food in its gut. They roll the leaves of canna around them as they eat using silk.

Like most caterpillars, canna leaf roller’s appearances change as grow. They’re relatively transparent when they hatch and slowly become less clear and more green. In their final stages, the head turns a slightly orange color.

Got holes in your leafy greens? You have cabbage worms.

How to Get Rid of Canna Leaf Rollers

Melinda prefers a natural way to eliminate the insects from plants. She suggest removing the larvae by hand. Gardeners can unroll the leaf where the bug is hiding and smash the caterpillar. Once it’s been destroyed, you can safely offer it up to a hungry songbird.

Another treatment option is Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki. It’s a bacteria and an active ingredient in some horticultural pest sprays. Just spritz the spray directly inside the rolled leaf to kill the caterpillar.

Follow these steps to grow a natural, chemical-free garden.

How to Prevent Canna Leaf Roller Damage

It’s impossible to eradicate canna leaf rollers from your garden, so focus on management and prevention. After the first frost of the season cut the plants back and discard all of the leaves. Do not compost any of the plant material, as they have the potential to harbor more pests.

Cannas are not hardy in most growing zones, so check them for damage before overwintering the bulbs.

Next, learn how to control a Japanese beetle infestation.

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Rachel Maidl
Rachel Maidl is a senior editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. She enjoys bird-watching in her urban backyard and local state parks, gardening for pollinators and researching new plants. Her favorite backyard visitors are the bumblebees that visit her sedums.