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The March of the Palm Beetle. Part 1

In 1994 the palm beetle, rhynchophorus ferrugineos,or picudo rojo, in Spanish, arrived in Spain. I last wrote about it here in July 2007 so I think it’s time for an update.


dly, the news isn’t very good. Every day in the garden centre I give advice to, at least, one more gardener with an infected tree and I get many emails and phone calls from far afield. The costas are being devastated: palm lined promenades are looking very sad. Hugely elegant palms are collapsing. It was, initially, thought that the colder weather conditions of inland areas would protect their palms from the beetle but it hasn’t been the case; the beetle simply goes dormant when conditions are unfavourable to re-awaken, revitalised, in warmer weather. The loss is ours - our gardens and our landscape. Some people argue that the phoenix palms were introduced, were never indigenous to our country. This is true, but they have been around for a long, long time and we’ve become very accustomed to seeing them. Interestingly too, surveys have been carried out and one of the top tourist perceptions of Spain is the palm tree. Now when we need tourists more than ever, will they disappear along with our palms?

Some facts: the beetle was originally introduced, and is still being introduced, from Egypt. In Spain almost every urbanisation, promenade and golf course has its share of waving palm trees. Demand has been so great during the building boom that, during 2004 and 2005, 100,000 Egyptian palms were planted in Spain. It is now suspected that many of those were already infected. Strange, given that the importation of palms from Egypt was prohibited in the year 2000. But importers protested and the administration wavered and gave in. Their reasoning was that the same palms were still arriving in Spain but via Italy or France. Here’s a fact that may surprise you. A large palm, in Egypt, will be sold for, say, €60; by the time it sells in Spain, that price tag will have gone up to €500. So now you begin to see a large part of the problem …..

Forgive me all you readers on other costas, for quoting figures in Andalucia – it’s where I live and I follow their campaign. Figures in other coastal areas of Spain will, I’m sure, largely reflect those of Andalucia. In 2007, the Junta de Andalucia invested 1.8 million euro in the battle of the palm beetle but, given the numbers involved, it was a drop in the palm beetle ocean. Some 20,000 palms have been destroyed, to date, in Andalucia alone and Málaga capital is now under severe and relentless attack from the red devil. As is often the case, internal squabbling stops action. Málaga Town Hall complains that they have already spent 700,000 euro in a two year battle in which time 100,000 palms have been destroyed in the Capital. They claim that the responsibility rests with the Junta; that the Andaluz people, as a whole, should be paying to look after their capital city.

Certainly, on a more local level too, you’ll get little help from local Town Halls judging by phone calls I have received from far and wide. Affected trees should be reported to your local Town Hall, as the Junta are trying to keep a record of the path and numbers of palms infected. But lack of funding and equipment means that disposal of rotting trees will be largely left to individual palm owners. These should, correctly, be cut down in sections, bagged up and shredded so that the beetles cannot fly to infest other palms. The only other correct way to handle the problem is to burn sections of the tree, but ensure that you have a good fire going otherwise the beetles will just fly off to someone else’s palm.

So, as the beetle has been on our shores for 15 years, what has been done?


Remember those famous words - look out for next week’s thrilling instalment on the picudo rojo.


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