Florida’s iconic palm trees threatened by disease “imported” from Yucatán

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s iconic palm trees are under attack from a fatal disease that turns them to dried crisps in months, with no chance for recovery once they become ill.

Spread by a rice-sized, plant-hopping insect, lethal bronzing has gone from a small infestation on Florida’s Gulf Coast to a nearly statewide problem in just over a decade. Tens of thousands of palm trees have died from the bacterial disease, and the pace of its spread is increasing, adding to environmental woes of a state already struggling to save its other arboreal icon, citrus trees, from two other diseases.

Genetic testing shows lethal bronzing likely originated in Mexico’s Yucatan region. Bahder’s hypothesis is that 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, which tracked from the Yucatan to Florida, or a storm with a similar path carried infected treehoppers across the gulf to Tampa. Those insects infected area palms, which infected native treehoppers. The disease spread when winds blew infected bugs to new territories or they hitched rides on vehicles. Bahder said the palm cixiid is particularly attracted to white cars.

In this Wednesday, July 31, 2019, photo, a plant-hopper insect, that is thought to transmit a lethal bronzing disease to palm trees, is viewed through a microscope at a lab in Davie, Fla.(Credit: AP)

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