Diagnosing Palm Problems
Dead palms tell few tales! Scientists and palm specialists often receive photographs of dead palms, with no other accompanying material and with the following question attached: “What killed my palm?” In most cases, it is not the least bit obvious what has killed the palm! Diagnosticians need clues. The best clues come from palms that are still living and from the people who are growing the palms (especially if they have been closely observing the palms). Background information can be critical for making the correct diagnosis. This includes information about the palm itself, its surrounding environment, maintenance practices, and also recent weather events.
Even with plenty of clues, it still may not be possible to determine exactly what is affecting the palm. Sometimes, only an educated guess can be made. Diagnosing palm problems can be as much an art as it is a science, and experience is invaluable. Often, the field or landscape observation can help to narrow the cause of the problem to two or three possibilities. Then, with a palm autopsy or lab diagnosis, an exact cause of the problem may be determined. Sometimes, the best clues are found with a chainsaw diagnosis, meaning that the palm is dissected piece by piece. Even then, further testing to confirm suspicions may be needed.
Palms are susceptible to a wide range of diseases and disorders. Diagnosis of a particular palm problem often requires either a comprehensive understanding of all of the possibilities or a systematic key to help the diagnostician focus on the cause of the problem. Keys are now available to help diagnose the most common diseases and disorders affecting palms. Some are only available on the web and others are available as free apps for your mobile devices. These keys include damage caused by insects, and there is also a key for identifying insect pests of palms. The keys have links to fact sheets about each specific problem or pest. The UF/IFAS FLREC Palm Problems Key is available here: http://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/palmprod/palm-problems-key/
More information and resources for palm problem diagnosis is available here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp166