sabal palm, sabal palm disease, sabal palm killer
Wilfredo Lee/AP

What’s Killing Florida’s Palm Trees?

July 25, 2008 06:00 AM
by Liz Colville
A mysterious, microscopic disease is targeting Florida’s state tree, the sabal palm, in the latest of nature’s many assaults on trees this year.

30-Second Summary

An “unknown but growing number” of sabal palms in the Tampa Bay area are being killed by the disease, which has left scientists “stumped,” the Associated Press reports. Even after identifying the disease, scientists will have to track down the insect responsible. The process could take many years.

Experts are pessimistic about the fate of the trees. Tim Schubert of Florida’s Division of Plant Industry told AP that the disease causes infected trees to slowly lose their leaves. Pathologist Monica Elliot added that the disease is a tough diagnosis, often confused with nutrient deficiencies or excessive trimming.

Experts do know that the disease is a phytoplasma, a type of bacteria that lacks a cell wall. But further confirmation of the disease requires “expensive DNA tests,” according to the St. Petersburg Times.

The state’s research efforts are being stymied by a tight budget, though the use of emergency funds is being considered.

Florida’s challenge is concurrent with a mountain pine beetle infestation in the western U.S. and Canada, mostly affecting lodgepole pines, and treatable with a temporary dose of pheromones that wards off new beetle colonies.

An Asian beetle, the emerald ash borer, has killed millions of ash trees in several U.S. states including Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey and West Virginia.

Headline Links: Mysterious disease killing Florida’s sabal palms

Related Topics: Insects on multistate tree-killing sprees

Reference: Palm diseases & plant pathology


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