Infested city palm trees at risk of falling, thus posing danger to pedestrians; Israel’s agriculture minister calls for public awareness.
By Zafrir Rinat | May.22, 2013

Date palms in cities throughout Israel have fallen prey to a beetle that eats away at the tree trunk and could cause them to fall over this summer, endangering pedestrians, the Agriculture Ministry has warned. The ministry called on the public to inform municipal authorities if they see trees that appear diseased so they can be treated before it is too late.

“The awareness of the public can help discern early signs of disease to prevent trees from falling in cities,” Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir said.

In recent years, date palms have become infested with the insect, known as the red palm weevil, which is brown, 3.5 centimeters long and has a long snout. An invasive species, it first began to spread in Israel in 2009 in date palm groves in the Jordan Valley, as well as among ornamental palms in cities.

One tree fell after infestation at the entrance to a mall in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Bialik and others have fallen on the Akhziv beach and at Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk on the northern Mediterranean coast.

The Agriculture Ministry has recently taken steps to locate the affected trees. “We have set up traps containing a hormone that attracts the beetle,” said Shimon Biton of the ministry’s plant protection service.

The findings in the traps indicate that the red palm weevil has spread to many cities in the north, including Acre, Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona, Kiryat Tivon and Haifa, as well as to the Hula Valley and the vicinity of Hadera. In the south they have been found in communities near the Gaza Strip and in Gadera and Rehovot. It is only a matter of time until they hit trees in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and southward, the experts say.

The beetle lays a few hundred eggs in the trunks and the larvae that hatch eat away at the tree until it tries up and falls. An untreated tree can reach the point of no return within three months of infestation, and the beetles fly from tree to tree. “They are active mainly in the summer and so we expect that in the coming months there is a danger that many trees will fall,” Biton said.

The beetle infestation in the Jordan Valley damaged the trees but did not fell them. But then they moved to other species of date palm – some of which fell after the infestation, especially ornamental palms – boring right into the base of the tree, Biton said.

Agriculture Ministry experts say early signs of infestation are when the crown of an affected palm leans sideways and looks dry, and the leaves hang down like a closed umbrella.

Once a tree is diagnosed, it can be treated by spraying the crown. Several cities have already done so. “If treatment is applied when the first signs are visible, the tree has a 70 to 80 percent chance of survival,” Biton said.


Invasive beetle may cause trees to fall
05/22/2013 19:35

Agriculture Ministry warns of falling trees due to infestation of the red palm weevil that consumes wood from the inside out.

The Agriculture Ministry has warned that every minute trees could fall on passers-by due the alarming presence of an invasive beetle species from the Far East – the red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Olivier).

Attacking mainly palm trees that are common in Israel’s city streets, the approximately 3.5-centimeter red palm weevils eat the wood of the trees from the inside until the plant rots and collapses. The initial stages of infestation are usually undetectable, as a female weevil simply lands on the tree, gnaws on its top and then lays several hundreds eggs there. These eggs, in turn, hatch into the larvae that destroy the tree to its core, the Agriculture Ministry explained.

With origins in southeast Asia, the red palm weevil was first observed in Israel in 2009, in date groves and urban areas in Nahariya. The weevil mainly targets the canary palm tree but can also damage other types such as the date palm and coconut palm, the ministry said.

The areas of the country most at risk for weevil attacks include Haifa, Nahariya, Akko, Kiryat Shmona, Kiryat Tivon and the Hula Valley. Because the entire region of the North down to Hadera are actually in some danger of the invasion, palm trees there have received treatment without prior examination, the ministry said. Some weevils have also been observed in the Gaza vicinity, where trees will also be treated.

Last year, several palm trees collapse but fortunately did not hit passers-by, the Agriculture Ministry noted. However, due to the expansion of the weevil population, the ministry has heightened alert levels throughout the country for this summer.

Members of the public can help detect an infected tree by examining several details on the plant, the ministry stressed. A healthy palm tree should be straight and symmetrical, so any tilting is a sign of possible invasion. Meanwhile, if the wood seems damaged or dead, or branches are dropping like an umbrella, these too could be signs. If not already entirely dead, the trees can be saved by spraying a specific treatment at the origin of the palms, the ministry explained.

“Awareness of the general public about the phenomenon may help diagnose early signs and prevent the collapse of trees in cities,” said Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir.