Homeowners in the Bay area love their palm trees. A lot.
For the affluent, the exterior landscaping of their home is just as important as the interior design. And when money is no object, nothing makes a better focal point than a large beautiful palm tree (called specimens). In recent decades homeowners routinely paid $10,000 to $20,000 for particularly attractive specimen palms.
But money has become the objection for many of central Florida’s most desired palm varieties. In the mid-2000s a disease known as Texas Phoenix Palm Decline (TPPD) made its way into the Tampa area. Officials in Texas don’t like having their state associated with the disease, so it is often shortened to Phoenix Palm Decline. The Phoenix genus of palms includes some of the most attractive varieties, including the Canary Island Date Palm, Edible Date Palm, Wild Date Palm, Reclinata (or Senegal) Date Palm, Queen Palm and our state tree — the Cabbage or Sabal Palm. All of these palms are affected by the disease.
An organism caused by a phytoplasma — similar to a bacteria — creates TPPD. It is believed that the disease is carried by an insect known as the planthopper, which spreads it from tree to tree. Once a tree is infected, it drops its fruit prematurely; discoloration then begins on the tips of the oldest fronds. The disease works its way to the spear (or terminal) frond. At that point no new fronds will develop, and the tree dies.
If the disease is caught early enough and the spear leaf has not died, the tree can be injected with treatment. But this process needs to happen every few months for the rest of the life of the palm. Palms that have not been infected can be injected to prevent the disease. Though these injections are another expense to tack on, Drew Futch — project manager at Tampa’s Hardeman Landscape — says his team recommends them as one way to help prevent TPPD. Keeping the palm in overall good health is the most important defense against TPPD and other pests.
“Palm tree owners can help to protect palms against TPPD and other disease by making sure that when they have their palms pruned, their arborist or tree service is using sanitized equipment to contain the spread of disease from one property to another,” Futch says. “Also keeping the palms well fed with deep root fertilizing and systemic bud drenching will help to ensure the health of the palm.”
So buyer beware: You might want to consider your options before you plop down $20,000 on that specimen palm tree.
What Are My Other Palm Options?
“There are many other palms that are not as susceptible to the effects of TPPD,” Futch says. “If you like the look of the Sylvester Date Palm, we might recommend the alternative Livistona Nitida. It’s in a different family and has not yet been proven to be susceptible to TPPD.” Futch also recommends palms from the Arecaceae family: