“PALMAGEDDON” – MORE NEWS ABOUT PALM TREES
The town of Nice in the Alpes Maritimes is under a new threat from the charancon rouge, Rhynchophorus Ferrugineus, the dreaded beetle that bores into palm trees and ultimately kills them. This is because last January a case was found in a park behind the port and although the tree in question was cut down, broken up and burnt the danger is truly lurking there because, to the west of Nice, in the Antibes-Vallauris area, 400 trees have been found to be infected.
Briefly, to re-cap, this pest, which is a native of South West Asia, was first spotted in La Croix Valmer in the Var in 2004, but nothing much was done as the true dimensions of the danger were not recognised. However, it is now calculated that about 80% of the Phoenix species have been lost and it has spread to 5 departments of France without any national policy on how to contain it.
A group of interested persons, nurserymen, local gardeners and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (I.N.R.A.) banded together in the Var, already four years ago, to try to put pressure on the French Government to initiate a national policy and give support to their programme, but they have come up against an enormous amount of “red tape”, and are having a great problem in establishing an effective management.
However, Since Feb. 2010 several hundred gardeners from Nice’s Town Council’s Agricultural committee; tree surgeons, members of the Citizen’s Reserve and the Public Services have been called into action to try to deal with this new hazard in the Alpes Maritimes.
The beetle has recently been found inside the special traps containing pheromones installed in the Commune of Nice which are supposed to attract and catch this menace and even though they are normally installed at a safe distance from the palms themselves it proves that they are already in the area!
The Council say they have put out a “red” alert but this will not solve the problem as two-thirds of Nice’s 20,000 palm trees are on private property and if the pest is to be controlled then private owners must look after their own trees, as they were directed to do in a recent Municipal order. If they don’t the situation will get out of hand and the next few months are decisive ones according to the Mayor’s office.
The Mayor of Nice is asking the French Government. to ban the import of all palm trees for at least 3 years – the beetle can be introduced in the form of eggs, larvae or pupa concealed inside the trunks – and this should be time enough to eliminate the menace but the government .has been very slow to act and has not produced a national policy to eliminate the beetle. Other countries, such as Spain and Italy seem to have grasped the nettle and produced national preventative treatments even though many of their trees have already been ravaged by the pest.
A vast project is in hand in Nice to take a census of all palm trees in the region but in order to save them one has to know where they are. Thus ariel photographs, using zoom lenses, have been taken around the area and all the trees have been numbered. . The photographs that have been released are really awe-inspiring for their accuracy as the inventory covers almost 76,000 in the Alpes Maritimes; 20,000 are in Nice, 13,000 of which are on the Promenade des Anglais and two-thirds in private property.
In Antibes and Valllauris one only has to see these palm trees, with their leaves all discoloured and collapsing to know that the beetle has been at work there. It eats the inside of the tree with terrible insistence and all non-treated trees die within a few months and are, of course, a source of infection to their neighbours. More than 100 females can be present in a tree at any one time and they can lay anything up to 300 eggs, which hatch in one to six days and produce very hungry larvae! The trouble is that only an expert can detect the presence of the beetle and if it is not recognised immediately it is sometimes too late to save the trees.
The dynamic mayor of Nice, Monsieur Estrosi, has issued a municipal order insisting that individual tree owners must engage an expert from the Chamber of Agriculture to do a control each month, treat their trees if they are near a zone of infection and even to cut them down if they and are unable to be treated.
A method does exist for saving them as long as the heart has not been touched; all it needs is for the terminal bud to be treated and to reduce the top of the tree, which will grow back in about two months. This method has two advantages; one is that the tree is not destroyed and it is much cheaper than having to cut it down. To cut it down and destroy it costs about 2,500 euros but the treatment is only a few hundred euros!
Unluckily, the cost of employing a specialist is not negligible and there have been cases where rogue tree cutters, who undercut the specialists, just take away the infected trees or stumps and dump them on derelict land. The beetle is not killed, continues to flourish and moves to new sites.
The European parliament member for Nice and the local Committee have asked the government if a subsidy can be allowed to encourage all private people to act in the wider interests of the community. However, as we have seen from the present inertia this may not come into being for many months to come and the beetle continue to crunch its way through the local trees.