Just Arrived In Town!
New insect pests, diseases and invasive organisms unfortunately arrive in Florida on a regular schedule. The newest one that folks should start to familiarize themselves with is something called Texas Phoenix Palm Decline or TPPD for short. This is a plant disease caused by a bacterium that has no cell wall, also called a phytoplasma. It is a disease of certain palm trees, including Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm), Phoenix dactylifera (edible date palm), Phoenix sylvesteris (wild date palm or Sylvester palm), and Sabal palmetto (cabbage palm). This disease was first discovered in Central Florida in 2006 and has since spread to areas surrounding Hernando County. Several weeks ago the first confirmed case of TPPD was found in Hernando County, close to the Lake Lindsey area and there may already be more infected trees in the county.
The symptoms of TPPD can be easily confused with other palm problems
It would be easy to confuse this disease with palm nutritional issues or irrigation. One obvious symptom on mature palms is the sudden dropping of fruit or inflorescence (the flower stalk) death. The oldest leaves will turn a shade of reddish-brown to grey, but not yellow (a common problem with palms). Before all of the lower leaves die the spear leaf (the newest leaf at the top center of the palm that is not totally unfolded yet) will die. If the spear leaf dies the palm will not recover and should be removed.
This disease is spread from tree to tree by insects. Researchers are not yet sure which species vectors the bacterium, but it is probably a planthopper, treehopper or psyllid.
This disease has the potential to become a major problem in Hernando County. We have numerous Canary Island date palms and Sylvester palms in local landscapes, and their loss would have an economic impact. But the real problem is that this disease affects cabbage palms, which grow wild across the county. Their loss would have a large impact on local parks, preserves and natural areas.
For more information the University of Florida has a factsheet with more information on this emerging plant pathogen located here.