Central Florida Trees Dying

yardvaarkMay 20, 2012

I live in central Florida and recently noticed an unusually large number of fully grown, and some smaller trees are dying. (I've also posted about this on the Landscape Design forum where I usually hang. More pics there.) While driving around an area 1/4 mi. x 1 mile, I took photos of about 3 dozen dead trees. Most of these are in yards. Some were at the edges of wooded areas. This seems to have started about 2 or 3 weeks ago, but it's taken some time to grasp the magnitude of it. On Monday, I'll be calling the county agent to see if they know anything.

A little background is that winter before last we had record-breaking extended cold (for us.) Then, last winter we had record-breaking extended warmth (a perfect winter!) It was also dry; we had very little rain over the winter.

Most of the dead trees are Live Oak as that's what the majority of trees here are. I noticed at least one other Oak species, but it's uncommon and I can't id it. Other tree types are citrus and redcedar.

Not so much looking to deal with wild speculation as to the cause, but am wondering if anyone in other parts of Florida or the Southeast is seeing anything like this...??

Various dead trees & shrubs:

view from opposite side

3 in this group; one behind

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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

Why is it so hard for people to pick up a hose and give their trees water during times of lack of rain. Trees, like any other living thing, need water to stay alive. I just don't get it. Unless there was a water restriction in place. I've read trees need a drink every day it is 80 degrees or higher, less often during lower temperatures.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 7:50AM
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j0nd03

"Trees... need a drink every day it is 80 degrees or higher..."

If this were true, there would be no forests in the US east of the Rockies.

You may be confusing establishing young trees with trees 50+ years old. Just how would go about watering a tree with a 100' root zone spread for 5 or 6 months in FL, ILMT?

John

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 9:24AM
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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

Hi John, no doubt young trees need more regular irrigation in hotter temperatures, but even mature ones need water when Mother Nature gets stingy. Do you think for a moment that if those trees had been watered, that they would be looking like that right now?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 10:06AM
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yardvaark

It's doubtful that any of these trees had supplemental water beyond their second year, if that. Then they managed to get by for the next 40 or 50 years. No irrigation for sure in the first 4 pics. Don't know about the last one as it is private back yards. For the 2nd pic. I needed permission to walk into the yard. The elderly owner proceeded to tell me her husband planted the Juniper hedge 60 years ago. For every dead tree there are "a thousand" still living.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 10:15AM
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yardvaark

It would be hard to speculate not yet knowing the actual cause.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 10:17AM
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mackel_in_dfw

Live oaks are dying off everywhere, sad but old news.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 11:04AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Speaking from a position of total ignorance I'm wondering if it is Sudden Oak Death (which also affects other species.)

A second possibility is a ground water issue. Either depletion through excess abstraction or increasing salinity due to a combination of abstraction and a rise in sea level?
I certainly agree that it isn't an irrigation issue. Those are mature trees and have lived for decades without supplemental water. Although severe drought can affect mature trees they are usually the last things to succumb.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 11:05AM
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mackel_in_dfw

Live oaks are dying off everywhere, sad but old news.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 11:18AM
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mackel_in_dfw

I don't know why my post got copied twice.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 11:33AM
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salicaceae(z8b FL)

Yardvaark, send me a private message and I will try to help you out. I'm the state forest heAlth extension specialist and assistant professor St UF. We are researching live oak mortality.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 2:37PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

ilovemytrees, you mean well, but you clearly have no idea what oaks are confronted with in the SE and SW....and it has nothing to do with lack of water.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 3:11PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

ilovemytrees, you mean well, but you clearly have no idea what oaks are confronted with in the SE and SW....and it has nothing to do with lack of water.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 3:15PM
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williamr

To the original poster, Yardvaark, in reference to local trees� response to the last few winters here in Central Florida, I did notice the following...Tree specimens here north of Orlando that represent a species that is at the far southern limit of its range (or even south of its natural range) actually looked much healthier after breaking dormancy following the winter of 2009-2010. Isolated specimens of Southern Dogwood, Redbud, Tulip Tree and Cherry I have observed locally actually bloomed a bit and leafed out vigorously following the high chill-hour winter of 09-10. Even a Bradford Pear (a zone 8 and colder tree) near a small office here popped a few flowers after the aforementioned winter. After most winters, these trees struggle to leaf out, and after this past really mild winter, they look terrible and the cherry tree died outright. Actually, most native temperate trees looked to have a bit more vigor after this unusually cold winter.

In sharp contrast, marginally cold hardy/cold sensitive trees, which had become quite large and established after a string of six very mild winters, looked very rough after the 09-10 winter and many died.

The trees you have shown in the photos, however, appear to have succumbed to drought, nutrient deficiency, disease or a combination of these factors.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 12:33AM
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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

rhizo_1,

Clearly, I am NO expert on trees nor do I claim to be. I'm just someone who loves the trees I've planted and Im on here to learn as much as I can about how to better take care of them.

But it just seems to me, fwiw, that people could do more, and should do more than ignore their trees after the 2 year establishment period has passed. Just sayin......

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 10:23AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Has the water table dropped?
That's just a wild guess on my part.
Mike

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 11:55AM
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saccharum(z9 FL)

Yardvaark, I'd take salicaceae's offer up. I didn't realize his identity previously, but there's no better person in the state for these issues. These sorts of local oak decline scenarios pop up regularly, and the cause(s) can be very difficult to piece together. Although it may not be solely due to our recent drought conditions, water stress can be a contributing factor in combination with other issues, giving a diseased or declining tree an extra "push" towards death.

I can say that it's almost certainly not caused the sudden oak death pathogen (Phytophthora ramorum), which has been detected in an isolated location in Florida, but not yet found to be causing disease here.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 12:12PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

ilovemytrees - it could actually be detrimental to keep watering a tree after it is established. It needs to 'learn' to seek water for itself and not rely on artificial surface irrigation.

Mike - that's one of the thoughts I had - also possible salinity issues.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 12:16PM
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strobiculate

i come from the frozen north...minnesota...and all i can tell you is that after a season of abnormal weather, be it extreme winter conditions or summer drought or fall flooding and you get some things dying. stack a few years of odd weather back to back to bavk and you find out what plants are truly healthy and those that merely look healthy.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 12:56PM
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mackel_in_dfw

They've come up with an experimental cure for SOD. The science ain't out yet... EverythirdtreeinDallas is a Live Oak. Monocultures are subject to disease pressures- and Live Oaks literally cover the South....'sides, kudzu is undestructible we'll never lack a place to go hide under the shade...nevah..

Mackel

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 4:53PM
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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

Boy do I stand corrected. Well, I was right in that mature trees should get water assistance during times of lack of rain, but not as often as I was recommending.. "For most mature trees, regular *monthly* deep watering is recommended in the absence of soaking rain".

But more importantly what I learned today is that Mature Native Oak Trees ARE different and should be treated as such.

"Native oaks require special attention because their roots share soil space with the Oak Root Fungus which specializes in living off of oak and other woody roots. Under natural California conditions, this fungus (Armillaria) is dormant during the hot, dry summer, and comes to life only with the winter rains. Our native oaks, Valley Oak, Coast Live Oak and Blue Oak do not require and do not tolerate irrigation in the dry months. If irrigation is applied near their trunk during the dry season, the Armillaria will grow through the combination of warmth and moisture. Eventually as the tree matures, continued watering around the trunk maintains the fungus infestation, which in turn will cause the tree to die, or tip over from too few roots to anchor its top weight. ".........

"It is important to keep the area within at least 10 feet around the trunk of a native oak undisturbed and clear of any vegetation and irrigation. Ideally no irrigation should be applied, and no lawn installed or existing lawn removed from the trunk all the way under the drip line, at a minimum. Removing lawn inside the drip line of the tree will not only remove competing plants, but will also help eliminate excess moisture. Do not water or allow water to collect around the root flare. Do not allow sprinklers to spray on the trunk."

Here is a link that might be useful: Caring for Mature Trees

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 12:02PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Whatever it is, it killed those trees fast! The dead leaves are still on the trees. Conifers too. Even shrubs. And yet similar trees adjacent to the dead ones are untouched, except in that line of conifers. There may be some sort of progression there.
A real puzzle.
I've been to Daytona Beach all the way to St. Petersburg with stops in between several times. Orlando, Lakeland, Tampa, and even had lunch in Plant City! Couldn't pass that up. Beautiful country. I'd hate to see it damaged like that.
Mike

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 2:01PM
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gatorbone(8b)

This problem is not just in central Fl., I live just east of Gainsville and have lost 4 50' live oaks and 1 30' magnolia in the last 2 years. I was blaming it on our drought conditions, but after reading all of this discussion that aint necessarily so.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 10:16AM
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yardvaark

Where I took my first picture, I was back there today and see that another tree in the group has succumbed and a fourth tree is just beginning to look sickly with dead spots.

At the fourth picture down, the center tree has joined in the dying. There is only one large tree close to the house that has not turned brown. That's a hellova thing to happen to a person's front yard.

I've also noticed Loquat and Auracaria among the dead and dying.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 6:04PM
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saccharum(z9 FL)

Yardvaark, did you contact salicaceae? If not, I'd also be interested in checking it out (in my work capacity). Email me through the gardenweb software, and maybe we can set up a site visit.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 8:08PM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

ilovemytrees, the guidance in your most recent post is quoted from a website based in California. Its not exactly relevant here.

Yes, trees from arid and semi-arid climates want their dry season to be dry. Of course, "dry" in California is quite different from "dry" in Florida. Average precipitation during the driest months in California is 0. Yes, that's NOTHING. Meanwhile, in Florida the driest months on average see about 2" of rain.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 9:07PM
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wisconsitom

The herbicide Imprelis wasn't in use there, pre-ban, was it? Of course, that debacle had to do with Norway spruce, white pine, and other large-growing conifers here in the north. But something about the rapidity and progressiveness of this problem reminds me of Imprelis damage. But too, many pathogenic situations can act the same way.

+oM

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 11:41PM
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yardvaark

Saccharum, I contacted salicaceae but he couldn't open my zipfile of photos. I've just now sent a few more so we have to give him a chance to see them.

I cannot entertain a theory of herbicide or poisoning of any kind. The affected trees are individuals or pockets of groups of trees. But they are surrounded by otherwise healthy, normal appearing trees. Some are occurring in wooded areas (also as individuals or groups.) Where the trees are in yards (except the fenced in back yards of which I know nothing) the trees are in areas where lawns not only are not fussed over, they are lucky to get 6 mowings in a years time. It's mostly a semi-rural area with no sign that anyone is willing to spend 10 cents on herbicide to get rid of any weeds. Herbicide is used on some of the strawberry fields, but there is no physical correlation to the dead trees and proximity to these fields. As well, the fields have been managed this way for years--probably decades--and tree death like this has not been seen here before (at least since I've been here.) I've never heard about such a thing happening previously.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 1:48AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

On another thread about dying trees, someone mentioned a gas leak. Anything like that possible?

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 2:30AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

A gas leak killed a cherry outside my parent's house but Yardvaark has said these trees are all over the place - that would take a lot of gas leaks. (Assuming we are talking about gas, not petrol ;-))

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 4:05AM
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yardvaark

Same as with herbicide or any poisoning, I would rule it out because of the widespread conditions. Many of the trees are in natural areas. There is a large gas main that was installed a couple of years ago that runs generally (1/2 mile away) through the area that I initially focused on. But in subsequent driving around, I see the dead tree syndrome also occurring many miles away and in-between. People in the country use bottled gas and have always done so. It's not likely that suddenly these private systems simultaneously sprang leaks that would matter. In future looking, I'll pay more attention to the existence of propane tanks, but my theory says any relationship is unlikely to be a cause.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 12:37PM
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saccharum(z9 FL)

One thing I'd caution you about, hopefully without giving offense: there's a natural tendency, once you've noticed tree mortality in one location, to suddenly start noticing them everywhere. Trees are dying all the time in the environment for all sorts of mundane reasons, but unless one is particularly "keyed in" to looking for them, one tends to filter them out. So, although I agree that the mixed-species clump of dead trees in your pictures at top looks unusual, I'd caution you against assuming a common cause with other dead trees you notice in distant locations.

Also, there's no doubt that severe drought periods like the past couple of years are associated with greater amounts of tree mortality, even in native tree species that are well-adapted to it. There are pests and pathogens that take advantage of trees stressed by things like drought, and conversely a tree that is stressed by a pest or pathogen problem may be less able to handle a drought. I wouldn't be too quick to discount drought as a contributing factor, generally speaking.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 3:01PM
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yardvaark

The forester from county agent office called back today. He's going to come out and look at trees but probably not until next week.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 3:22PM
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scotjute

We've lost ~5% of trees from last summer thru now, mostly due to the record breaking heat and drought last year then followed by normal rain Dec - May. The stress of unusual weather can set a tree up for sudden death months after the stress has ended. Deep watering once a month seemed to have helped our established yard trees and take the edge off of the drought. Hope you can find the answer.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 6:55AM
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yardvaark

@scotjute, I'm wondering if drought laid the groundwork for disease. And maybe a MILD winter could have assisted the disease. But it's just wondering. I'm waiting to hear from those who know. The cross-species effect complicates it.

On one recent trip of a few miles, I noticed that I couldn't be on any stretch of the highway where I couldn't see at least one, several, or groups of dead trees. Others are joining late so the worst is not over yet. It seems that all of these trees leafed out normally and then died.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2012 at 11:46PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Interesting from all ends.

I will assign 10% to paying more attention to dead trees once you notice one. Recent trips to Colorado and Alaska showed me many standing dead trees in natural areas. So I noticed more and more and more as I was looking for them.

Assign 5% of the death you see to the economy sucking. Folks have less money so they delay removing a dead tree. Some bank owns a house and banks aren't good at maintaining properties, maintaining asset values or selling properties.

Florida is unusual. Are you any place near the Everglades or such irrigated or drained areas? You'd think it was the only land in the country people go through soo much trouble to have big government maintain it. Soapbox aside, that changes an environment and can cause pockets of dead trees.

Besides that, I dunno. Just straw grasping.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2012 at 12:25AM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

Noticed a reference to Florida trees dying in this thread

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/conif/msg0708163712307.html

    Bookmark   June 3, 2012 at 1:39AM
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yardvaark

I heard back from the county forester yesterday. He was able to take a look at some of the trees I noticed during the past month. Here's the "meat" of his reply...

"I found the dead laurel oaks. They appear to have died from a combination of root decline (fungal infection likely), Hypoxylon canker (symptoms observed on several), boring beetles and finally stress from the prolonged dry season.

Please take a look at Dr Ed Barnard's paper on oak mortality (see link below):

http://www.floridaforestservice.com/forest_management/fh_oak_mortality.html

Thanks for the heads up on the tree mortality, but I think is this instance we are seeing an extra level of oak loss influenced by the long dry Spring and early Summer."

Dr. Barnard's paper is not about something new, but about the various pathogens that affect Oak for some while. Last week, while driving in 6 mile stretch I noticed I could not be anywhere where I didn't see a tree, many trees or, especially, groups of trees that were dead. And of several species. This seems significantly different than any previous year since I've been here in Florida. There might be new information yet to come, but that it hasn't arrived yet.

Saccharum, I understand your points, but see this different from previous years. As a chronic observer of all things landscape, I live in ongoing greater danger of being "rear ended" than the average citizen. For the dead trees I suspect that the cause is highly influenced by recent weather and disease--be it mundane or rare. I would just like to see the answer put forth with certainty. Maybe it has been and recognizing that fact will take some time.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 1:27PM
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hogmanay

While this is a microscopic example on the scale of things, it is indeed interesting to not only consider immediate "tiger in the grass" dangers, but consider that species are moving up or out. Trees can't run from the climate. Floridia is one of many places that are sort of a canary in the coal mine. I hope the resources remain to investigate the larger patterns of unexpected tree mortality down there, should they become statistically significant at some point. (Like the insect threat to conifers in the Rockies spurred by a warmer climate).

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 3:32PM
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saccharum(z9 FL)

Hi Yaardvark,

Glad to hear that the County Forester is using materials from our shop (what county is this in?). Ed Barnard was my supervisor, I've taken over that position since his retirement. He wrote that article because this is something that had been going on for all the decades that he'd been working - nearly every summer, we get calls from scattered areas around the state where people are noticing oaks dying. However, at this point there's no evidence of a general, statewide trend of oak decline that's above the background range of variability.

What I find interesting about your situation is the number of different species and families involved on the same site. Although some organisms can affect a broad host range, this is often an indication of an abiotic factor.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 8:54AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I seem to remember thinking a lot of trees in Maryland appeared to be dying in '09, but now I don't. So maybe whatever it was worked itself out, or, I was looking too hard for them in '09.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 8:17PM
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Engleman

You might look up "Imprelis" on Google. It's a DuPont herbicide, formerly used in golf courses, and by lawn care professionals. EPA seems to have withdrawn its use. Has a reputation for killing trees at golf courses, and remaining viable in lawn clippings --so if you used the lawn clippings in compost, the herbicide would still kill off your plants and trees. Better living through chemistry...
There is sudden oak death in Florida. The aquifers are generally mapped by the water districts, because they are the source of drinking water, for the most part, and they keep fairly close observation of the salt levels in the water table. Also something to consider is whether jet fuel is dumped in the area (on the way to an airport?) prior to landing.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 9:18PM
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brnd

Hi everyone, I live in Brevard Co, and work over at CCAFS and have noticed several Live Oaks dead as well. Very odd that you will see 50 live oaks all well and good and one dead in the very center of the cluster. Unfortunately the oaks in the cemetary are dead now and one large oak nearer to the port which is probably over 100 years old is dead as well. Definitely think it is related to reduction in aquifer tables, and drought. Thankful that we are getting much needed rain this month. Hope someone replants some hardier trees in the cemetary.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 1:36AM
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yardvaark

Please forgive my recent absence. Due to recent personal issues I've been been unable to participate and am now slowly trying to catch up on things.

I still reject all ideas about chemicals, herbicides, salt water intrusion, etc. The distribution pattern does not correlate. To recap slightly, what I'm seeing (though I've not been out much lately) is vast normal areas of seemingly healthy trees in which one comes across single dead trees widely spaced--mostly oaks, but other species, too--and most alarmingly, groups (4-7) of dead trees. As anyone who lives around here knows, Oaks are the vast majority of existing trees in central Florida so it's no surprise that even if multiple species are uniformly affected, it would be Oaks that bear the brunt of the effect and suffer in greater numbers. (As soon as I get a chance I will try to make and post a video and will put a notice about it here.) Sometimes, the group will have other nearby individual dead trees very close around it... such as 4 adjacent dead trees, and within 500' of them, 4 or 5 more. Recently, of a group of a dozen or so palms, I noticed 3 adjacent ones, fresh dead.

Another symptom that may or may not be related... I'm seeing many trees that from a distance look healthy, but have tip sections (approx. 3'-6') of branches that are flat dead. Some of these trees may have 3 such dead branches (as viewed from one side). Some may have a dozen.

I'm in eastern Hillsborough County. Yesterday, I went to Brandon (a more urban/suburban area) and over there I did not see as many dead trees and dead branch tips. But there were some.

Also, recently, I happened upon a land owner who was affected by dead trees so inquired as to what he knew. He was adamant that the death was caused by beetles. He claimed to obtain this information from someone who would know about such things, but our conversation was hectic as he was in the middle of work activity requiring his focus. And I had little time then, too, so was not able to get more information. However, I can believe that such a theory is far more likely than any chemical-based theory. I could imagine how beetles could move into an area and quickly distribute themselves on an adjacent group of trees. And on some other nearby trees. And then fly off to trees one-quarter mile away and do it all again. I can imagine, too, that they could do this in concert with some weather/climate phenomenon and seemingly "burst" upon the scene as a sudden catastrophe... such as the periodic "herds of locusts." They could do damage directly or be the carrier of disease a la the well known Dutch Elm Disease. However, I'm not in a position to research this information first-hand and there seems to be a lack of it coming through official channels. When I fist reported it here it was extremely new (to this area) so stood a good chance of not yet being noticed or having anyone ascertain its degree of impact. The overall distribution of this condition... what may or may not exist beyond my area, is unknown to me. Maybe we are the "epicenter." Or maybe this is just old stuff finally working its way through this area from other parts of Florida. I'm surprised that it is does not yet seem to be a major local news story or that definitive information is not coming forth via official channels. Then again, I've been out of commission for more than two weeks.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 11:56AM
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