Considered the princes of the plant world, palms are unlike many plant families in the fact that they provide both food and shelter to people, while at the same time are admired and collected for aesthetic reasons. But according to plant pathologists with The American Phytopathological Society (APS), the same genetic structure that gives the palm so many wonderful attributes is the same structure that makes them susceptible to lethal and destructive diseases.
According to Monica Elliott, plant pathology professor at the University of Floridas Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, the palms anatomy is more similar to that of a corn plant than that of an oak tree, with each stem having a single bud or heart. Once that tissue is damaged, death is likely. "Palms cannot repair injuries to their stems, and diligent effort must be made to prevent injuries that create opportunities for insect or pathogen invasion of the trunk," she said.
Ganoderma butt rot and Phytophthora bud rot are just two of the most problematic diseases of palms. Ganoderma butt rot, caused by the fungus Ganoderma zonatum, is prevalent in Florida, where it has been found on more than 50 palm species. "Ganoderma butt rot is always a lethal disease of palms," said Elliott. "By the time symptoms develop, usually more than half of the lower trunk has been killed by the fungus," she said. In Florida, palm trees of 58 species have died from this fungus and no effective controls are known for this disease.
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