Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Iconic California palms are in jeopardy

As we drive around California neighborhoods, we see various palm trees in the landscape and say, oh yes, palms are a part of the horticultural fabric of our southland gardens.

Palm trees come from many exotic locations around the globe, from the local Anza Borrego desert to the jungles of Borneo, Madagascar, and faraway places like the Canary Islands off the north coast of Africa.

With this wide spectrum of palms, many types have found the Mediterranean climate of California just great to hang out in and to flourish.

The large citrus ranches in Corona and the Riverside area would border their expansive acreage of orange groves by planting the tall fan palms denoting their property boundaries. There are still remnants of 100 ft tall palms, over a century-old, thriving in some of those few remaining citrus ranches today.

While Southern California grew up with the rapid land development, palms were planted by the thousands, which almost has a connection to the glitz and glamour of the film industry in the Hollywood town of yesteryear.

The delicious dates that we enjoy are primarily grown in the Coachella Valley by the millions and are a stable in that rich agricultural community. The date growers are very concerned about their future with the entrance of the red palm weevil that has migrated into the California environment from South America.

One of the largest palms that dot some gardens is the Canary Island palms, and you see them being pruned in a huge pineapple shape atop the massive trunks by tree trimmers. And could that be the problem?

The tall trunks of the queen palms are almost everywhere, for it is very fast-growing and eventually look like grey telephone poles, in my opinion, with its fronds high up in the air.

The queen palm sets an abundance of ripe seeds and is a food source for pack rats, which can transfer disease from palm tree to palm tree.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city of Los Angeles decorated itself with a diversity of palms to entice newcomers from all over the world and to "go west young man" to the land of milk and honey.

We have become obsessed with the palms, which are grown commercially in large numbers in the San Diego area and shipped all over the state.

With this huge population of palm trees in our gardens, it comes with some luggage, and I mean bug infestations. And when there are large monocultures with the same species near one another, there can be invasions of bugs and fungus problems hopping from palm to palm.

Now enters the South American red palm weevil to the scene and it is causing great havoc to many species of palms up and down the state.

This large beetle was first found in a Canary Island palm tree in Laguna Beach back in 2011 and since that discovery has gone rampant throughout Southern California, attacking many Canary Island palms.

This beetle burrows itself deep into the emerging palm fronds in the center of the crown. The adult lays its eggs, and then the larva feed on the nutrient-rich palm leaves, causing the decline and eventual death of the palm.

Another pathological problem is fusarium fungi, which has started suffocating these huge palms and plagues many species within the palmacea family.

One specimen, the large canary island palm, can jiggle your pocket-book for thousands of dollars, and that does not include the move-in factor.

When the canary palm dies and starts to rot, it can cause a sudden crown drop, which can be hazardous to property, buildings, people and cars below if it topples over, weighing many tons.

One of the reasons this palm disease is spreading so fast is because of the non-sanitary pruning tools being used, from one dead palm frond to another palm. Dirty tools can carry the infectious disease on pruning shears, chainsaws, and be transmitted very easily.

Most professional tree companies sterilize their tools from palm tree to palm tree. But many people, including homeowners, are not aware of this dreaded bug and fungus, and the disease can spread on infected pruning tools,

The spread of this disease is now attacking more species of palms than originally known and is becoming rampant throughout the Southern California area.

Another key factor to be concerned about is keeping the dead palm leaves removed from the Mexican fan palm trees to eliminate the fire hazard factor. If one of these fan palms catches fire in strong Santa Ana winds, it can dislodge the burning fronds and carry it miles away and start another fire from the burning palm leaves.

The key is management and knowing what you are looking for with different symptoms to diagnose. As a tree doctor, my craft continually keeps me on my toes, for as climate changes, so does the movement of different types of bugs from around the globe, and Southern California is like a smorgasbord for the bug world.

A landscape is an investment and caring for it is money in the bank. Your home is your castle, your sanctuary and, with a little TLC, the garden can give you great pleasures to enjoy, so take care of it and be aware of what lurks out there in the bug world.

Roger Boddaert, a certified, licensed arborist, can be reached at 760-728-4297.


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