What is killing my pygmy date palm?

The pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) is common in many Florida landscapes due to their small size, adaptability to various soil types, and considered cold hardy to temperatures as low as 25°F. Pygmy date palms often exhibit nutrient deficiency problems, which could result in yellow-orange discoloration necrosis of leaf tips, or unopened leaf spears. For more information on the proper care for palms and symptoms of nutrient deficiency, see EDIS publication ENH-600.

Photos: (Left): Patti Anderson, Division of Plant Industry, Bugwood image #5491107. (Right): CT Johansson, Wikimedia Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

A potential insect problem for the pygmy date palm is red date scale, Phoenicococcus marlatti. This stationary insect pest inserts a straw-like mouthpart into the palm as removes large amounts of plant sap, resulting in fronds remaining closed, premature leaf aging, or plant death. Identify red date scale by inspecting the base of the frond, midrib of the leaves, and roots for a white waxy mass. The scales are very small (1mm) and may require a hand lens to see clearly. Under the white wax, the scales have a reddish-brown body but it is impossible to see any antennae or legs while the insect is on the plant. Plants in shade may be at a larger risk for this pest.

Photos: (Left) Chris Mallory, BugGuide photo #264176, (Right) USDA Agricultural Research Service, bugwood image #5124045

Pygmy date palms have a naturally occurring white material on the leaves. The red date scale will not appear as uniform and may look like a build-up of this material where the leaflet emerges.

Photos: (Left) T. Broschat, University of Florida. (Right): Lyle Buss, University of Florida

To read more about the cultural, biological, and chemical control and general biology of this insect pest, see EDIS publication EENY-454 on red date scale.

By Sage Thompson, DPM Student

 

References:

•Caldwell, D. 2007. Scale Insect Killing Pygmy Date Palms. University of Florida. IFAS Extension, Collier County.
http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/CommHort/CommHortPubs/red%20date%20scale%20killing%20pygmy%20date%20palms%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
•Espinosa, A., A. Hodges, G. Hodges, and C. Mannion. 2009. Featured Creatures: red date scale. University of Florida. EENY-454.
•Miller DR, Gimpel ME. (2009). Phoenicococcidae: Phoenicoccus marlatti. ScaleNet.
•Sinacori A. 1995. Phoenicoccus marlatti (Cockerell) (Homoptera: Phoenicoccidae) in Sicilia. Phytophaga (Palermo) 6: 55-61.