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Unknown disease killing off Floridas state tree

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 19:41
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Microscopic killer of palms stump scientists; hits state during budget woes

Image: Sabal palm tree

Wilfredo Lee / AP

The sabal palm, Florida’s state tree, is under attack by a microscopic killer that has scientists mystified.

MIAMI — The sabal palm, Florida’s state tree, is under attack by a microscopic killer that has scientists stumped.

An unknown but growing number of sabal palms in the Tampa Bay area have died from a mysterious disease that researchers are struggling to identify. Even after scientists pinpoint the disease — and that could take years — they will have to learn what insect spreads it. The disease will be tough to stop.

“It’s not simply a matter that we will be able to eradicate,” said Monica Elliott, a University of Florida plant pathologist. “That’s not very likely.”

Sabal palms, also known cabbage palms, can grow to 50 feet. In the United States, they can be found from the Florida Keys to parts of North Carolina and can grow in marshes, woodlands or along the coastline. The palm, which is also South Carolina’s state tree, is featured in Florida’s state seal and was designated the state tree in the 1950s.

Tim Schubert, an administrator and pathologist in Florida’s Division of Plant Industry, said it’s impossible to say what the disease’s eventual effect on the state’s sabal palms will be but “it’s not going to be good.”

“There’s going to be fewer palms. They may present a less attractive tree in nature because of this new disease showing up,” he said.

Spread of diseases


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