Level 1: Elementary
Florida’s famous palm trees are under attack from a disease that completely dries them out within months. And there is no chance for recovery once a tree gets sick.
The cause is an insect about the size of a piece of rice. It spreads the bacterial disease, known as lethal bronzing, by jumping from plant to plant.
Lethal bronzing has gone from a relatively minor issue on Florida’s Gulf Coast to a nearly statewide problem in just over 10 years.
Tens of thousands of palm trees have died from the disease. And the rate of its spread is increasing, adding to environmental concerns of Floridians. The state is already struggling to save other plants, its famous citrus trees, from two other diseases.
The tall, wide-leafed sabal palm is Florida’s official state tree. It is especially susceptible to lethal bronzing.
Farms where the palms are grown, businesses and homeowners are taking a financial hit as they destroy infected trees. Some preventative measures can be taken, but once infected, digging up the tree is the only reasonable solution.
Brian Bahder studies plant diseases spread by insects. He is also a leader in the state’s battle against lethal bronzing.
Bahder told The Associated Press that getting the disease under control is highly important because it could severely change the local environment. If nothing is done, he said, “I don’t think all the palm trees will die, but the issue we see will get a lot worse before it gets better.”
Experts say lethal bronzing likely came to Florida from Mexico. It also is found in parts of Texas and throughout the Caribbean.
Some worry it will spread to California and Arizona, infecting date palms and damaging that fruit crop. The disease has already heavily damaged coconut farms in Jamaica, and Brazil is taking preventative measures to avoid invasion.
Lethal bronzing is attacking palm trees right outside Bahder’s office at the University of Florida’s agriculture research station near the city of Fort Lauderdale. Some trees are dying, while others are dead. This gives him a laboratory to test ideas and make presentations, so he is not removing infected trees like many experts advise.