Palm Tree Infection
TPPD sounds like an acronym for some type of fatal heart disease, but it’s actually Texas Phoenix Palm Decline, and its recent spread to Florida is threatening palm trees around Tampa Bay. If you live in or near Tampa Bay, you may notice palm trees being cut down in their prime for what seems like no reason, but in truth these trees are succumbing to TPPD, the tree disease with no known cure.
What is TPPD?
It was only ten years ago that lethal yellowing was the only known palm disease in Florida caused by parasites and pathogens called phytoplasmas. In particular, phytoplasmas are unculturable bacterium with no cell wall. Texas Phoenix Palm Decline is now another known palm disease caused by this phenomenon, but it’s unknown how it arrived in Florida.
This palm tree infection can be identified when mature palms drop their fruits early and all at one time rather than over a prolonged period. However, if the tree is not yet old enough to produce fruit, or if it is off-season, foliage discoloration is the next symptom of TPPD. Discoloration typically begins with the oldest leaves morphing into different shades of red, brown, and gray.
It is the status of the spear leaf that determines the fate of a tree with TPPD. When the spear leaf has died, the palm cannot recover and must be removed as quickly as possible to avoid the palm infecting others. However, if the spear leaf is still alive, the tree can undergo treatment with an antibiotic to attempt recovery.
TPPD in Tampa
Sadly, TPPD is spreading around Tampa too quickly. There are $10,000 medjool date palm trees that arborists have been forced to cut down because they have been too deeply infected by the bacterium of TPPD. Insects are responsible for spreading the disease around Florida by sucking on the tree’s leaves and then moving to a new tree. Though some trees are being treated with antibiotics, all too many have not been spared. The University of Florida has devoted resources to investigate the disease further in hopes of finding a more effective treatment or cure.