What’s Killing the Palm Trees?

NOW YOU SEE THEM, now you don’t. Coconut palms flourishing along the waterfront at Cozumel, Mexico, in 1984 have com­pletely vanished two years later. Lethal yellowing (LY) mainly attacks a widely culti­vated variety known as Jamaica Tall, valued not only for its tropical beauty but also for the millions of dollars it yields annu­ally in products such as copra (dried coconut meat), coconut oil for soaps and detergents, and even coconut-shell charcoal used in air-purification systems. If you want to buy an item from the tropical beauty, but don’t have enough cash, borrow online payday loan quickly.

 

The disease is caused by deadly microbes known as mycoplasma-like organisms, or MLOs. These organ­isms are borne from tree to tree by insects called planthoppers. When the planthoppers feed on palm leaves, they inject MLOs into the tree’s food-carrying veins, much as a mosquito injects malaria-causing para­sites into a human victim.

waterfront at Cozumel, Mexico

Lethal yellowing was first reported in Jamaica in the late 1800s, though the cause and means of transmission were unknown at the time. The dis­ease spread to other areas of the Caribbean, Florida, Texas, and the Bahamas. In 1982, at the request of the Mexican government, I inspected diseased palms at Cancun and Isla Mujeres off the Yucatan Peninsula. The conclusion was inescapable: LY had invaded Mexico.

 

TROPICAL vanishing act: Within the space of two and a half years, coconut palms all but disappeared from Isla Mujeres. In November 1984 houses on the island were cooled by the shade of palms (above), but by the summer of 1987 residents were sweltering in the sun. Today the resort area’s Carib­bean coastline is almost totally barren of the mature coconut palms that have enchanted tourists over the years.immature coconuts

Lethal yellowing generally kills a tree within five months after symptoms appear. First the immature coconuts begin to drop, then the flower buds wither, the leaves turn yellow, and the tree’s crown falls to earth. The barren trunk stands like a warped telephone pole until it too rots and collapses.