Foxtail palm tree diseases

Palm Diseases & Nutritional Problems

Palm trees grown in the landscape appear carefree, but they are susceptible to many diseases, insects and nutritional problems. Avoid many of these problems by following the recommended cultural practices that help keep plants healthy and vigorous. More information on how to grow outdoor palms successfully is provided in HGIC 1019, Palms & Cycads.


Leaf Spots: Palms are commonly affected by many leaf-spotting fungi. Leaf spots can be circular to elongated, brown and possibly oily in appearance. It is difficult to differentiate among the leaf-spotting fungi by visual symptoms alone.

Prevention & Treatment: Don’t allow irrigation to wet palm foliage. In most cases, leaf spots will not kill the tree, and fungicides are usually not necessary. If damage is becoming severe, fungicidal sprays containing copper can be used (see Table 1 for specific products). If palm fruits are used for food purposes, copper fungicides are the only approved fungicides. Apply all fungicides at rates and spray intervals according to directions on the label.

False Smut: False smut or Graphiola leaf spot is caused by Graphiola species. This disease is most common in areas of high humidity. Only palms in the Arecaceae family are affected. In South Carolina this includes sabal palmetto (Sabal palmetto), jelly or pindo palm (Butia capitata), Chinese fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), and Washington palm (Washingtonia robusta).

Graphiola leaf spot (Graphiola phoenicis)
Monica Elliott,

Infected leaves have small, black, wart-like structures erupting through both leaf surfaces. Tiny filaments may emerge from the black spots. There are usually no symptoms on the youngest leaves.

Prevention & Treatment: Properly space palms so that there is plenty of air circulation to reduce humidity. Avoid wetting fronds during irrigation. Removal and destruction of severely infected palm fronds will help minimize disease spread. However, removal of too many fronds may be more damaging to the palm than the disease. Palms are sensitive to nutritional deficiencies and frond removal can worsen existing problems and weaken the tree.

Fungicides are usually not necessary but can be applied as a preventative treatment during the spring. Select a fungicide containing copper (see Table 1 for specific products). If palms are used for food purposes, copper fungicides are the only approved fungicides. Apply all fungicides at rates and spray intervals according to directions on the label.

Ganoderma Root & Butt Rot: This disease is caused by the fungus, Ganoderma zonatum, which can infect many types of palms. The first symptom of infection is the withering and drooping of older fronds. Fronds collapse and droop parallel to the trunk. New growth is stunted and is pale green or yellow in color. The head of the infected palm may fall off or the trunk collapse. Depending on the point of invasion, the roots may be severely decayed.

Outer trunk tissues may seem solid, but affected palms have a hollow sound when tapped. Areas of dark brown tissue are evident when the trunk is dissected. Over time, conks (spore producing structures of this fungus) may form. Palm death can take three to four years, depending on the age of the tree and environmental conditions.

Prevention & Treatment: This fungus survives on plant tissue, so remove and destroy any root systems, stumps and trunks of dead palms in the landscape. Avoid any injury to the tree, especially during planting, staking and regular maintenance activities by string trimmers and lawn mowers. Ganoderma survives in the soil, so it is not recommended that another palm be planted in the same location. There is no chemical control for this disease.

Bud Rot: This disease can be caused by various fungal pathogens, Phytophthora species and Thielaviopsis species, as well as by bacterial pathogens. While bud rot tends to occur after a tropical storm or periods of excessive rain, bacterial bud rot tends to occur after the bud has been damaged by cold weather.

Bud rot (Thielaviopsis spp.)
Rachel Brown, University of Florida,

Regardless of the pathogen, disease symptoms are similar. Buds and young fronds show black lesions, and young leaves wilt. A firm rot of the bud occurs. Over time, this area may become slimy later due to secondary invaders. Older fronds may remain green for several months and are the last to die. Eventually, only the trunk remains.

Prevention & Treatment: Avoid overhead irrigation when possible. Once infection occurs, plant recovery is unlikely. In general, infected palms should be removed and destroyed promptly to reduce disease spread.

Preventative fungicides containing copper can be used on plants exposed to the disease (see Table 1 for specific products). Apply at intervals sufficient to protect new developing tissue. Apply all fungicides at rates and spray intervals according to directions on the label.

Nutritional Problems

Palms frequently suffer from improper mineral nutrition in the landscape. The most common nutritional deficiencies of palms are nitrogen (N), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg) and manganese (Mn). Other essential nutrients such as boron (B), calcium (Ca), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) are occasionally found to be deficient if they are not present in the fertilizers applied, but these deficiencies are not very common in the landscape.

Nutrient deficiencies can be caused by insufficient nutrients in the soil, a nutrient imbalance, poor soil aeration, a high soil pH and an excessive planting depth.

Potassium (K) Deficiency: Potassium deficiency is perhaps the most widespread and serious of all disorders of palms in coastal South Carolina. Symptoms vary among palm species, but occur first on the oldest leaves and affect progressively newer leaves as the deficiency becomes more severe. Typical symptoms are translucent yellow to orange spots that may be accompanied by black or necrotic spotting. Leaflets will usually have areas of necrosis (dead tissue) along their margins and tips. Symptoms are worse at leaf tips and margins and less severe at the base of the leaves. As symptoms progress, tips of leaves will appear withered, burnt and frizzled. The midrib typically stays greenish-yellow for a period of time. Potassium deficiency can eventually be fatal to the palm.

Potassium tends to leach rapidly from sandy soils, and it is in these soils that potassium deficiency is more apt to occur. In heavier clay soils, the rate of potassium leaching is reduced. Deficiencies in clay soils may be more due to insufficient potassium fertilizer applied. Palms that are in lawns may become potassium deficient as many turfgrass fertilizers are high in nitrogen, but low in potassium. Palms need fertilizers that contain potassium as high as or higher than the nitrogen content. Fertilize all palms separately from the lawn.

Prevention & Treatment: Potassium deficiency can be prevented and/or treated with applications of sulfur-coated (slow-release) potassium sulfate, but slow-release magnesium should also be applied simultaneously to prevent a potassium to magnesium imbalance. If treated, necrotic leaves will not recover, but new growth should become healthy and will eventually replace the injured leaves.

Manganese (Mn) Deficiency: Manganese deficiency can be fatal to palms. This is a common problem in high pH soils (above pH 6.5) because manganese is insoluble at high pH levels. Additional causes can be high water tables or poor drainage, and excessive amounts of soil phosphorus, as it will tie up certain micronutrients, particularly manganese.

Early symptoms of manganese deficiency are interveinal chlorosis (yellowing between the veins) accompanied by interveinal necrotic streaking on the newest leaves. If the deficiency is advanced, leaves emerge completely frizzled, withered, scorched and reduced in size.

Prevention & Treatment: Have a soil test performed to determine the soil pH and if necessary, adjust downward to increase the availability of manganese. For more information, see HGIC 1650, Changing the pH of Your Soil. Manganese sulfate applications to the soil or foliage can be used to avoid the problem. Apply 1 teaspoon manganese sulfate per gallon water to soil around the palm two or three times per year. Tecmangam is one brand of manganese sulfate.

Iron (Fe) Deficiency: Iron deficiency is primarily a cosmetic problem. Palms usually survive, but will exhibit interveinal or general chlorosis on the newest leaves. Interveinal chlorosis is basically green veins surrounded by yellow tissue, and this is usually seen on newest leaves first. As the iron deficiency becomes more severe, new leaves will show extensive tip necrosis, and there will be a reduction in leaf size. Iron deficiency in palms is usually induced in palms growing on poorly aerated soils (compacted or over-watered) or in palms planted too deeply. Iron deficiency may occur in palms with a damaged or inadequate root system which leaves the plant unable to take up sufficient nutrients from the soil. This deficiency is much less often caused by a lack of iron in the soil, or by high pH soils.

Prevention & Treatment: In alkaline soils, iron-deficient palms can be treated with chelated iron fertilizers. In some cases, iron deficiency symptoms can be temporarily alleviated by regular foliar applications of chelated iron or iron sulfate, but long term corrections will only occur when the poor soil aeration or proper planting depth is corrected. The rate of iron sulfate to use for foliar application is ½ teaspoon per gallon of water. Spray the foliage to runoff.

Nitrogen deficiency symptoms
Tim Broschat, University of Florida

Nitrogen (N) Deficiency: Nitrogen deficiency is not a major problem in landscape palms unless soils are nitrogen-poor. Most palms generally require low levels of N, especially in comparison to turfgrass. Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency are uniform light green color foliage and a decrease in growth.

Nitrogen deficiencies are more common on light or sandy soils. This is the nutrient deficiency that is most common in container-grown palms, whereas potassium, manganese and magnesium deficiencies are more prevalent in landscape situations.

Prevention & Treatment: Treatment with any fertilizer containing N will quickly improve leaf color. The fertilizer nitrogen should be in a slow-release form.

Magnesium (Mg) deficiency in palm.
Tim Broschat, University of Florida,

Magnesium (Mg) Deficiency: Magnesium deficiency is never fatal and is primarily a cosmetic problem in landscape palms. Classic symptoms are marginal chlorosis on the oldest leaves which progress upward to younger foliage. Magnesium deficiency is distinguished by a typically broad lemon-yellow band along the margin of older leaves with a green center and a distinct boundary between the yellow and green portions. If leaflet tips are also necrotic (brown dead tissue), this indicates the presence of potassium deficiency on the same leaves. As with potassium deficiency, leaves with a magnesium deficiency will not recover, and must be replaced by new healthy foliage.

Prevention & Treatment: Coated or uncoated “prilled” (pelletized) kieserite can be applied to prevent or correct magnesium deficiency, but may be difficult to find. Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) is very water soluble, and tends to leach from sandy soils very quickly. However, the use of 2 to 4 pounds of magnesium sulfate per tree along with controlled-release potassium four times per year should prevent further symptoms from occurring. If the soil pH is low, adjust using dolomitic limestone based on soil test results. Avoid the use of magnesium oxide as a treatment if the soil has a neutral or alkaline pH, as it is quite insoluble in soils with a high pH.

Boron (B) Deficiency: Boron deficiency in palms can cause leaves to appear small and crumpled. Other symptoms are sharp bends in the trunk with horizontal growth and bud necrosis or death.

Prevention & Treatment: Boron can also be toxic in even small amounts, so generally fertilizers for palms should contain only very small amounts of boron. Sodium borates, boric acid, borax or Solubar can be applied at 2 to 4 ounces per tree.

General Fertilizer Recommendations

Palm nutritional deficiencies are easily prevented by following a yearly fertilization program. Mature palms in the landscape should be fertilized with a complete granular fertilizer formulated for palms, often called a “palm special.”

Three to four applications of a palm fertilizer are recommended to provide a constant supply of nutrients during the growing season. Be sure to only fertilize during the growing season (April through September).

The latest research at the University of Florida recommends a fertilizer analysis of 12-4-12-4 (N-P-K-Mg) applied at the rate of 1.5 pounds per 100 square feet over the area beneath the palm canopy. This fertilizer should be a slow-release form and should contain the trace nutrients listed above. Roots of larger palm trees may extend 30 to 50 feet from the trunk, and the entire area needs to be fertilized. If centipedegrass grows within 30 feet of the palm, the fertilizer rate over the lawn area should not exceed 1 pound per 100 square feet, with a maximum of three applications per season.

Adjustments for rates and distances will have to be made for newly planted palms. Newly planted palms should not be fertilized until after they put out a new spear. Be sure to fertilize only during the growing season.

An example of a palm fertilizer is Atlantic Fertilizers New Improved Palm Special, which is an 12-4-12-4 sulfur-coated slow-release fertilizer with manganese, boron, copper, zinc and iron.

In the absence of an available palm fertilizer, use the same rate of a 12-4-8 slow release fertilizer every two months during the growing season. Apply epsom salts at 2 to 4 pounds per tree during the in-between months of regular fertilization. Apply a product containing the micronutrients needed by palms, such as Ironite Mineral Supplement, during the same months as the epsom salts applications.

Supplemental magnesium and complete micronutient amendments in the fertilizer are important. Once symptoms of a deficiency are evident, it can take six months or more for a palm to recover.

Table 1. Copper Fungicides for Palm Disease Control.

Fungicide Active Ingredient Brand Names & Products
Copper Salts of Fatty Acids Natural Guard Copper Soap Liquid Fungicide

Concentrate; & RTU1

Bonide Liquid Copper Concentrate
Camelot O Fungicide/ Bactericide Concentrate
Concern Copper Soap Fungicide RTU1
Copper Ammonium Complex Monterey Liqui-Cop Fungicide Concentrate; & RTS2

Southern Ag Liquid Copper Fungicide

Copper Sulfate Bonide Copper Fungicide Spray or Dust
1 RTU = Ready to Use (pre-mixed spray bottle for small palms).

2RTS + Ready to Spray (A hose-end spray bottle)

Note: Control of diseases and insects on large trees may not be feasible, since adequate coverage of the foliage with a pesticide cannot be achieved. As with all pesticides, read and follow all label instructions and precautions.

Protect your palm trees from fatal diseases


If you have palms planted in your landscape, you’re going to want to read this article all the way through. We have a few relatively new diseases that affect palms, and one that has been around for a long time: Ganoderma butt rot.

For some background, all palms, as well as cycads and other palm-like plants, are susceptible to Ganoderma butt rot, a fatal disease with no known cure. It is easily spread by wind blown spores and dirty shovels containing contaminated soil.

The fungal genus Ganoderma is a group of wood-decaying fungi that are found throughout the world on all types of wood, including conifers, hardwood and softwood trees and palms. There are many different species of this fungus, but only one is a pathogen of palms in Florida. That fungus is Ganoderma zonatum.

The conk is the most easily identifiable structure associated with the fungus. When the conk first starts to form on the side of a palm trunk or stump, it is a solid white mass that is relatively soft when touched. The “white button” is the beginning stage of the conk. As the conk matures, a small shelf or bracket will start to appear. Eventually, it will form a very distinct shelf-like structure that is quite hard, with a reddish-brown top surface and a white underside. A mature conk will have distinct zones, hence the name G. zonatum.

Once a palm is infected with G. zonatum, the fungus will move with that palm to the location in which it is transplanted. The primary symptom that may be observed is a wilting, which can range from mild to severe, of all the fronds but the spear leaf. Other symptoms can best be described as a general decline, slower growth and off-color foliage. However, these symptoms alone should not be used for diagnosis of Ganoderma butt rot, since other disorders and diseases may also cause these symptoms. Only when these symptoms are accompanied by the development of the conk can the palm be diagnosed with Ganoderma butt rot. It has also been observed that conks can form prior to any obvious wilting or decline symptoms. The opposite is also true, where the palm can die before the appearance of any conks.

In general, the fungus will be located in the lower 5 feet of the trunk. This has three implications. First, this means that the fungus was not spread by pruning tools, since it is not associated with the fronds. Second, only the lower trunk portion should NOT be chipped up and used for mulch. Third, there are no fungicides that can systemically protect the palm either before, during or after infection.

Once you observe a conk, the palm should be removed immediately for safety reasons. These palms are likely to be the first ones blown down in heavy winds. Because the fungus survives in the soil, do not plant another palm or palm-like plant in the same spot where a palm has died from Ganoderma butt rot. If your palm dies and all of the fronds are hanging down around the trunk, but there are no conks present, cut it down but leave the stump. The stump can be monitored for the appearance of conks to determine if Ganoderma was the cause of death, or not.

A relatively new disease that has shown up is a threat to just Queen palms and Mexican fan palms. The symptoms for Queen palms are the opposite of Ganoderma butt rot. For this disease, the lower or oldest three fronds will turn brown, then the next three, and this will continue until the entire canopy is brown but still held upright. This disease moves rapidly and the entire canopy can turn brown in a couple of months. The pathogen is Fusarium oxysporum and is called Fusarium decline. Once again, there is no cure for this disease and the recommendation is to not replant with a queen palm or Mexican fan palm. Another difference, when compared to Ganoderma butt rot, is that Fusarium can be spread by contaminated pruning equipment. Sterilizing pruning equipment between each palm is a must for Queen and Mexican fan palms since this is a common way the disease can be spread, possibly throughout an entire community.

The newest palm disease, confirmed in 2008, came to light due to reports of substantial numbers of Cabbage or Sabal palms, Sabal palmetto, dying in Manatee and Hillsborough counties. Observations of symptomatic palms in Manatee County, followed by removal and analysis of trunk core samples, have confirmed that a phytoplasma is consistently present in these effected in palms. The preliminary analysis indicates that the phytoplasma that causes Texas Phoenix palm decline is also causing the decline of the cabbage palms. The previously known palm hosts for this particular phytoplasma are Phoenix canariensis, Phoenix dactylifera, Phoenix sylvestris and Syagrus romanzoffiana. Unfortunately, we can now add Sabal palmetto to this list. This disease is spread by sap-feeding insects, such as planthoppers, treehoppers and psyllids.

The best way to protect your palms from all diseases is to make sure that they are not susceptible hosts for the pathogens. This can be accomplished by providing them with all of the nutrients they need, in the correct amounts. This would entail a soil test so, if you are interested in finding out more, email me at [email protected]

The one cultural practice that can also impact the palm’s vigor is pruning. The removal of any frond, other than those that are totally brown, is essentially the same as removing food from the plant. The green fronds are where photosynthesis occurs and the carbohydrates are produced for the plant to use for growth and survival.

Sally Scalera is an urban horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences.

Palm Tree Fungal Diseases

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Knowing the different palm tree fungal diseases, symptoms and treatments are an important part of keeping your tropical paradise healthy and happy.

There a few important ones you’ll need to to know how to watch for.

Ganoderma Butt Rot

The fungal disease known as ganoderma butt rot can attack every kind of palm. It is a hard one to spot if you don’t know what to look for. Your tree will more than likely look totally healthy right up to its death.

A key factor to watch for is a spongy type of growth, whitish in color growing at or near the base of the palm, often called the butt of the tree. It will almost look like an expanded marshmallow.

This growth is just the beginning sign. This palm tree fungal disease feeds on the wood inside the palm, so it really kills it from the inside out. It makes the remaining wood rot and turns it into a spongy texture.

The mature growth will look sort of like a sea shell, have stripes and be brownish in color. The growth is called a conk and once mature, it will break open to spread the fungus spores by way of water and air.

Then any other palm tree in a fairly large area could be affected. If you spot a growth, remove it immediately. Wrap it in an airtight bag or container and dispose of it. Unfortunately the tree it came from may have to be destroyed also to prevent the spread of the fungus to others in the area.

Above:both mature and immature conks attached

Right: Palm suffering from ganoderma butt rot

Both photos by: Monica Elliott, University of Florida,

creative commons photo license

This fungus, as with many others, will live in the soil for quite some time. Best practice is not to plant any other palm tree in the same spot. If you do it is likely to develop the same disease all over again.

Leaf Spot Fungus

Monica Elliott, University of Florida,

creative commons photo license

There are a couple different palm tree fungal diseases that will attack the palms leaves. They are know now as a leaf spot fungus.

Younger palms or a tree that is stressed by inadequate drainage are at a much higher risk of infection than a mature healthy one.

The symptoms of these fungi are the developing of spots on the leaves, as you may have already guessed. They will range in color from yellow to brown or black depending on which type your palm has.

The treatment for all are about the same, and which type you may have depends a lot on which area of the world you are from.

Different ones are more prominent in some areas than others.

Best cure is to fix the drainage problem first so your palm isn’t getting too much water in the root area. Then treat the leaves with a fungicide from your local nursery.

Once treated and drainage addressed the fungus shouldn’t return.

Bud Rot

This palm tree fungal disease usually hits in wet, warm weather. It lives in the soil and likes to strike during these conditions. If your climate is like this anytime, not just during the summer, best to keep an eye out for this one.

You’ll notice the new leaf has a brownie, yellowish color to it before it even unrolls. It won’t look healthy and will likely wilt before or just after it unrolls. This fungus attacks the new leaf first, or bud, causing it to rot then moves to the next newest ones discoloring and rotting them.

Florida Division of Plant Industry Archive, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,

Creative commons license

Treat with a fungicide when you first notice any signs.

Ask your local nursery which one is best and drench the bud, or new growth in it. It may take a few applications to kill all the fungus.

If the new leaf spear pulls out easily it may be too late to save the tree. It will depend just how deep the fungus has gone into the bud.

If the next new developing leaves are still green inside the heart and treated early enough it may bounce back.

Sooty Mold is a Palm Tree Fungal Disease

We learned on the page about palms pests, that this palm tree fungal disease likes to feed on the honeydew that is produced by a few sucking insects like aphids, or mealy bugs.

The sucking insects eat your palm’s leaves then excrete the honeydew this fungus likes to eat.

This one is easy to spot because it leaves a black colored, powder like substance on the leaves.

Treatment begins with getting rid of or a better control of the insects that produce its food source (the honeydew).

After treating for these sucking insects, you should be able to wash the powder off your palm quite easily.

The mold itself is not feeding or attacking the leaves itself, but it doesn’t have the greatest healthiest look on the leaves.

I would think that it may block some of the necessary sunlight and hinder the leaves absorption of the nutrients the tree gets from the air depending on just how many of the plants leaves are affected.

This is a few of the palm tree fungal diseases most commonly found. There are more with some of the same kind of symptoms and treatments that are similar to the ones listed.

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Palm Tree Passion > Palm Tree Care > Palm Tree Fungal Diseases

Diseases Affecting California Palm Trees

Diseases Affecting Palm Trees in California

Palms are often susceptible to a number of fungal infections. Some prominent fungal infections are Fusarium Wilt, Bud rot and Ganoderma Butt Rot.

Arborwell Professional Tree Management’s arborist services offer you the most complete prevention, control and wellness to program to protect your palm trees from fungus and infestation.

Fungal spores can remain in the soil for many years, even after the plants have died. Planting new palms in soils where an infection has taken place before makes them susceptible to infection as well.

The most common fungal infection afflicting palms is Fusarium Wilt. Fusarium wilt is caused by a soil fungus Fusarium oxysporum. The fungal spores enter the plants and trees through the roots with water into stems and leaves, and colonize the water-conducting vessels of the plant. Over time this gradually closes up water-connecting tissue with the gummy substance produced. New growth in Fusarium-infected plants is thus, often stunted.

Usually Fusarium infection results in the older, lower fronds turning yellow, wilting and dying followed by the upper leaves. The fronds die rapidly so that eventually only a few surviving fronds form a spike at the top of the tree and finally the entire plant dies. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure and the diseased tree may have to be removed. Make sure your palms get seen to by an expert, before the fungus strikes.]

Another frequently seen palm fungus is Bud rot. It is caused by the fungus Phytophthora palmivora which causes the heart fronds of a palm tree to wilt and die.

The first symptom is discoloration of the spear leaf and wilting/discoloration of the next youngest leaf. If severe, the spear leaf will easily pull from the bud. In palms with a canopy above eye level, this first symptom is often missed. Instead, what is observed is a lack of new leaves being produced, and an open-topped crown. Because the bud is dead, no new leaves emerge. Older leaves remain healthy for months after the bud dies. Tree death can occur soon afterward. California and Mexican palms are the most vulnerable. Bud rot is more prevalent in the summer season. Chemical treatment with fungicides can be effective in the early stages of the disease.]

Ganoderma butt rot is a relatively new and lethal disease, mostly seen in Florida palm trees.

It is caused by the fungus Ganoderma zonatum. The fungus most often invades a palm tree by means of a wound at the base of the tree in the lower 4-5 feet of the trunk. It then begins to rapidly work its way through the tree’s butt (base) area essentially rotting the wood. Once the fungus has worked its way through the centre of the tree to the surface, it forms a basidiocarp (conk), a spongy, whitish mushroom-like growth which grows to form a horizontal shelf-like disc extending out from the bark. A palm cannot be diagnosed with Ganoderma butt rot until the basidiocarp (conk) forms on the trunk, or the internal rotting of the trunk is observed after the palm is cut down.]

Keep an eye on the palms on your property to look out for any symptoms of fungal infection. Call Arborwell today at 888-969-8733 and get the trained arborists at Arborwell Professional Tree Management to initiate a Palm Wellness program for your trees. Our technicians will advise you on the best possible prevention, care and treatment to keep your palms lush and healthy.

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