Florida's iconic palm trees are attacked by a fatal disease that turns them into dry, dry months with no chance of recovery once they fall ill.
Scattered with rice-sized insects, deadly bronzing has gone from a small-scale infestation on the Florida Gulf to a near-state problem in little more than a decade. Tens of thousands of palms have died from the bacterial disease and its rate of spread is increasing, adding to the environmental woes of a state already struggling to save its other arboreal icon, citrus trees, from two other diseases.
Florida's official state tree – the tall deciduous palm tree – is particularly malleable and Florida nurseries, businesses, and homeowners are taking a financial hit while missing infected palms. Some preventative measures can be taken, but once infected, tree eradication is the only practical solution.
"Putting this disease under control is essential because it has the potential to dramatically change our landscape," says Brian Bahder, an entomologist who researches insect-borne plant diseases and is a leader in the state's battle against deadly bronzing. If nothing is done, Bahder said, "I don't think all palm trees will die, but the problem we see will get much worse before it gets better."
Deadly bronzing, which experts say is likely originally from Mexico, it is also found in parts of Texas and throughout the Caribbean. Some worry that it will migrate to California and Arizona, infecting date palms and damaging this fruit crop. The disease has already severely damaged Jamaica's coconut plantations and Brazil is taking preventative measures to avoid the invasion.
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Accidental – but convenient – deadly bronze attacks palm trees just outside the Bachder office in the Forester Farmstation Research Station. Some die, others are dead. This gives him a lab to test ideas and make presentations so he doesn't remove the infected trees as recommended.
"To understand the disease, I have to look at how it spreads and see what it does," said Bahder, an assistant professor at UF.
The first occurrence of lethal bronzing in Florida came near Tampa in 2006, but is now found by the keys south to Jacksonville north.
The disease is transmitted solely by haplaciosus crudus, a tiny winged insect, sometimes referred to as American palm ciscus or, generally, a tree-eater. These specific tree species (there are other species) inject the bacteria through their saliva when they are treated to the juice of the leaves of the palm tree. Any palm cider that later feeds on the tree will take the infection and transmit the bacteria to more palm trees.
Once inside a tree, bacteria pass to its base, multiplying until it clogs the bloodstream – like human arteries it is blocked by fat and cholesterol. Blocking makes it impossible for the cells of the tree to receive enough nutrients and sugars by starving them. When an infected tree dies, its leaves and center spear turn from green to bronze shades as they lend themselves for about six months.
Genetic studies show deadly bronzing, possibly originated in the Yucatán area of Mexico. Bachder's hypothesis is that Hurricane Wilma from 2005, which traces from Yucatan to Florida, or a storm with a similar path, carries contaminated trees across the Gulf to Tampa. Those palm-infected insects that infect native carpenters. The disease spread when the winds blew the infected bugs into new territories or they boarded vehicles. Bachder said that palm cixide is particularly attracted to white cars.
To check the spread, the State Department of Agriculture regularly inspects palm nurseries and certifies those found free from disease. If infected trees are found, they are destroyed and the remaining nursery trees quarantined for at least six weeks. Calls to about a dozen palm tree farms around the state have not been returned – Bahder said the owners do not like to discuss the issue publicly, fearing it will hurt businesses.
Eric Muque, manager of the Tampa Urban Forestry, said the city has been successful in keeping the disease alive by keeping its palm trees healthy and bypassing more susceptible palm trees with trees that do not attract bugs spread by bacteria.
"It's not like moving through a population of trees – it's" I don't see one dead tree after another, "Muek said. "Jump around; It is rather sporadic. "
Brent Gafney, Gainesville's landscape, stated that Bahder's research was the state's best hope for controlling the disease, but only if it received sufficient funding. Studies are currently underway to see if massive doses of antibiotics can save trees in the early stages of infection.
Following the removal of infected trees, nearby palm trees need preventive antibiotic injections to stop their spread. Each injection costs $ 50 and loses its effectiveness after three months: this makes injections before the illness is too expensive for most homeowners, businesses and municipal governments, Bahder said. Only high-end resorts that use mature palm trees to improve the atmosphere could consider injecting trees without a near infection, he said.
GET THE FOX NEWS APP The Rio Grande Valley around Brownsville, said the agriculture department of the state said the outbreaks were rare and isolated today, but Bahder said global warming was spreading the threat.
"With increased movement of people around the region, and especially with stronger climate models regarding climate change, there are more possible routes for invasive insects, "says Bahder.