Fungus threatens Florida palm trees

Jan. 5, 2011 at 2:26 PM

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Million of palm trees in southern Florida that appear healthy on the outside may be rotting from the inside and can topple in even modest winds, officials say.

A fungus, ganoderma butt rot, has been infecting South Florida palms for at least 50 years, experts say, creating a potential danger from dead palms that cannot withstand winds from the frequent summer thunderstorms, not to mention tropical storm- or hurricane-force winds, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Tuesday.

The fungus doesn't get the attention of citrus canker or other diseases that affect cash agricultural crops, but the disease is widespread throughout the region, Monica Elliott, a University of Florida professor of plant pathology, said.

"From the landscape industry perspective, this would be one of the top two diseases of palms in South Florida," Elliott said.

Unlike for the more prevalent disease known as lethal yellowing, there are no known treatments for ganoderma butt rot, Elliot said.

Infected trees can look healthy, experts say, but the tell-tale sign is a mushroom-like growth called a conk at the base of the palm.

The infection, which enters along the root system, begins in the center of the tree and spreads outward, and conks show up once the disease has reached the outside of the palm tree, researchers say.

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