Native palm trees under attack in South Florida, researchers say

Cabbage palms dying from ‘lethal bronzing'

DAVIE, Fla. – Cabbage palms are a part of the native landscape of the southeastern United States, standing tall as the official state tree for both Florida and South Carolina.

Because it's a native species, the cabbage palm is important from both an ecological and environmental perspective.

The fruits of the tree serve as an important food source for native wildlife and some species of birds will nest in the canopy

But cabbage palms across South Florida are dying from a diseased called lethal bronzing.

"This disease is caused by a type of bacteria that can only survive in a plant or insect host, sort of like a virus," said Brian Bahder, of the University of Florida Agricultural Extension Office in Davie.

The bacteria is introduced into the trees by an insect that feeds on the leaves of cabbage palms. 

"And the bacteria is present in the saliva of this bug and it gets injected into the palm ... (It) eventually causes symptoms and eventual death of the palm itself," Bahder said.

At the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, researchers are attacking the problem from multiple angles.

Infected trees are removed. Nearby healthy trees can then be injected with an antibiotic. 

"This is an antibiotic that becomes systemic and that helps to prevent new infections," Bahder said. 

Scientists are also trying to identify the insect responsible for transmitting the disease.

"Once we know what bug is transmitting it, we can then develop more efficient management programs that target the insect itself," Bahder said.

Cabbage palms aren't the only trees affected by the plant hopping insect that's spreading lethal bronzing; highly valued date palms are also being infected.  


About the Author:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.