I am writing this to all of you who have palm trees on your property and especially the blue fan palm known as the “Bismark Palm”. Many of you have been on Thomas Bartlett’s property and have been impressed with the most beautiful Bismarck Blue Palm, and hundreds of you have had your pictures taken in front of it over the past 6 years. The pictures here will break your heart like mine as I have once again watch a dear friend, this palm, that I watched grow and become beautiful, be taken over by a deadly disease, an insect, that has destroyed it.

I arrived back home this one beautiful day to be met by Antonia. She lead me through the garage and said “look” and pointed to the most beautiful blue palm. My heart sank. The entire center had collapsed to one side. I thought, this just can’t be! Why?

Earlier this year, one of the smaller Bismarcks also lost its center after a very windy day. There were insects and maggot looking bugs. I thought possibly it had gotten too much water. But the season got busy, and now I say to my self, if only. But knowing what I know now, I was already too late.

Yesterday, I went with Fernando our gardener out to the nursery about a mile past the Pemex station at the north end of La Penita. Benjamin and his brothers are the wonderful caretakers of the beautiful flowers. There I got my education. Benjamin told me he had lost three 4-meter high blue palms. I was saddened. He then told me there was a terrible insect… I don’t know the name but he showed me the picture… I nearly died when I saw it. The doggies were playing with this large beetle looking thing, black with a long snout, right under the palm!

Benjamin then showed me the trap! It is bright yellow. About 1 foot high and 4 inches in diameter with a top like an up-side down pie pan. I said I have seen them all along the road going to PV. He told me that the trap contains a “hormona” insecticide that attracts the big beetle looking bug and traps them inside. The insecticide needs to be changed once a month. I then asked him where to get one and how many would I need for Thomas’ garden. He hesitantly handed me one of only two he had.

Benjamin then explained to Fernando how to dig out our Blue Palm and spray and kill all the remaining bugs, then to burn it so as not to contaminate anything else. These are not nice bugs. If you see one, your trees are in danger.

Don’t let your beautiful trees be destroyed!

About the Insect – Picudo Prieto

by Allyson Williams – Last week, Sarah and I went to Vivero Las Palmas to speak with Benjamin and Manuel, the nursery owner, to find out more about this insect. Since then, I have spent countless hours researching this very serious and widespread issue (severe damage can be observed along the entire Mexican Pacific Coast). Luckily, I was able to find and speak with three local experts. Earlier this week, I arranged a meeting at the Bartlett estate with Armando from PV who specializes in this “plaga”. This afternoon, I met with a pest control specialist in Las Varas. I am also working with a team from the Comité Estatal de Sanidad Vegetal in Tepic, who are coming to meet with us next week. Here’s what we’ve learned so far…

The insect is called Picudo Prieto or Mayate Prieto (Rhybchophorus palmarum L.) and can reach nearly 4cm (1.5 inches) in length. The female tunnels into the crown of the palm and can lay 50-200 eggs. The yellow larva hatch and proceed to bore holes throughout the trunks of dead and dying palms to feed and pupate. Adults emerge three times each day to mate and feed. During this process, it is not unusual to hear both adults and larvae chewing inside palm trunks from several feet away.

As the adults bore into the wood, the tree starts to show signs of damage with yellowing palm fronds. In time, the tree becomes too weak to support itself, and eventually, the wind will cause the tree to fall down. Palm trees should be closely monitored for any discolored and dead leaves. Any yellow fronds should be promptly removed from the tree and properly disposed of to prevent the progression of the damage caused by this pest. The palm varieties most susceptible to the Picudo Prieto are the Coco de Agua, Coco Aceite, Royal Cubana, Bismark and Phoenix Rubelina, and especially young palms under 6 years.

How to Treat and Prevent Infestation

So far, we have learned about three methods used to treat infected palm trees and to prevent additional trees from being infested.

1) The most common and least expensive prevention option seems to be placing the yellow traps (see Sarah’s photo above) on your property and throughout our area (this option is recommended by the local nursery staff, the gentlemen at the Comité in Tepic and the bug specialist in Las Varas). Inside the trap is a small packet filled with a fermone. You should place a piece of fruit (banana or pineapple) inside the bottom of the container. The fruit attracts these insects, and while feeding on the fruit they are intoxicated by the fermone and die. The fruit needs to be replaced every 15 days and the packet every 2 months. These traps should be placed every 500 meters or 1 per hectare depending on who you talk to and how serious the issue is. One website says that if there are 5 or more insects caught in a trap, the number of traps should be increased (Sarah caught 4 in the last 24 hours, so we know the issue in La Penita is a very serious one). Currently, these traps and fermone packets are not available in our area, but I am working with this group of experts to stock them.

2) Benjamin and Manuel, from the nursery, also suggests using a toxic spray called “Fugaron” to treat sick trees. This spray can be purchased in La Penita at the poison store or in Las Varas. They recommend spraying your palm trees from above and directly inside the palm fronds (without spraying the fronds) and allow the spray to drip inside.

3) Armando, the expert from PV, insists that you need to use traps to kill the adults and an injection system (called endotherapy) to kill any larva inside the tree. He has his own version of the traps that uses a special fermone, which needs to be changed every 4 months. The fruit (2-3 whole bananas with peel) placed inside the trap should be replaced every 15 days. He says the traps should be placed every 100 meters and be hung 1.5 meters from the ground. For the endotherapy, he drills a hole into the tree, inserts a plug and injects a proprietary non-toxic liquid. Trees need to be re-injected once a year. Armando charges $300-500 pesos per tree per year. While his service is expensive, everything listed here is included. Plus, he is the one who does all the work (he does not have a crew) and he speaks English. If enough people are interested, I will arrange a group meeting with Armando.

We did not want to wait to publish this important story, so watch for an update in the coming weeks as we gather more information.