As summer winds to a close, the very image of the season—Florida palm trees—are under attack from a fatal disease called “lethal bronzing.” The illness turns them to dried crisps within months, with no chance for recovery. Scientists are working to get the disease under control.
Lethal bronzing is spread by a rice-sized, plant-hopping insect. Experts say the disease likely originated in Mexico. Today, it’s found in parts of Texas and throughout the Caribbean. Some worry it will migrate to California and Arizona, infecting date palms and damaging that fruit crop. The disease has already heavily damaged Jamaica’s coconut plantations, and Brazil is taking measures to avoid invasion.
In Florida, the disease has gone from a small infestation on the Gulf Coast to a nearly statewide problem in just over a decade. Tens of thousands of palm trees have died from the disease, and the pace of its spread is increasing.
Florida’s official state tree—the tall, broad-leafed sabal palm—is especially prone to lethal bronzing. Florida nurseries, businesses, and homeowners are losing money since they must discard infected palms. Some preventive measures can be taken, but once infected, digging up the tree is the only practical solution.
God has a purpose for the life and death of every plant and creature. And the disease is nowhere near a plague of biblical proportions. But for scientists in Florida, it’s serious. “Getting this disease under control is essential because it has the potential to drastically modify our landscape,” says Brian Bahder, who studies insect-borne plant diseases.
If nothing is done, he says, “I don’t think all the palm trees will die, but the issue we see will get a lot worse before it gets better.”
(Beachgoers sit in the shade of a palm tree in Key Biscayne, Florida. AP Photo/J Pat Carter, File)