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The South American palm weevil is bursting onto the scene in California. Its arrival could put one of the state’s most cherished botanical icons at risk of oblivion.
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Summer means vacation time, and nothing says, “Welcome to paradise!” quite like a palm tree. Though it’s home to only one native species, California has nonetheless adopted the palm as a quintessential icon.
But a new snake in California’s palm tree-lined garden may soon put all that to the test. Dozens of palms in San Diego’s Sweetwater Summit Regional Park, about 10 miles from the Mexican border, are looking more like sad, upside-down umbrellas than the usual bursts of botanical joy.
The offender is the South American palm weevil, a recent arrival to the U.S. that’s long been widespread in the tropics. Large, black, shiny, and possessed of an impressive proboscis (nose), the weevil prefers the king of palms, the Canary Island date palm, also known as the “pineapple palm” for the distinctive way it’s typically pruned.
A palm tree is basically a gigantic cake-pop, an enormous ball of veggie goodness on a stick. The adult female palm weevil uses her long snout to drill tunnels into that goodness—known to science as the “apical meristem” and to your grocer as the “heart” of the palm—where she lays her eggs.
When her larvae hatch, their food is all around them. And they start to eat.
If the South American palm weevil consolidates its foothold in California, then the worst might still be to come. While these weevils generally stick to the Canary Island palms, they can harbor a parasitic worm that causes red-ring disease—a fatal infection that can strike almost any palm, including the state’s precious native, the California fan.
--- Where do South American Palm Weevils come from?
Originally, Brazil and Argentina. They’ve become common wherever there are Canary Island Palm trees, however, which includes Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East.
--- How do they kill palm trees?
Their larvae eat the apical meristem, which is the sweet part of the plant sometimes harvested and sold commercially as the “heart of palm.”
--- How do you get rid of them?
If the palm weevils infest a tree, it’s very hard to save it, since they live on the inside, where they escape both detection and pesticides. Neighboring palm trees can be sprayed for protection.
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