Alarm bells are ringing over the future of palm trees after red palm weevil, a destructive pest of exotics, was found in the UK for the first time.
The bug (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) was found in a fan palm (Livistona rotundifolia), reportedly bought from a garden centre in Essex.
A spokesman for the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) said: “Adult weevils and larvae were collected by plant health inspectors and sent to the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA). The infected palm was burnt.”
FERA describes red palm weevil as “the most important pest of the date palm in the world”.
It is native to southern Asia, but has spread around the world at an alarming pace.
Its spread is being widely blamed on the global trade for plants, and rising demand for exotics in domestic gardens.
While the two main palm species of concern are the date palm and Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), it also attacks other ornamental palms that are regularly imported into Britain.
These include the Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei).
Reddish-brown adults are large: up to 1.6in (42mm) long and 0.6in (16mm) wide. Each adult female lays 200-300 eggs in holes or cavities in host palms.
Whitish-yellow smooth cylindrical eggs hatch in two to five days. Larvae bore into palms, feeding on soft succulent tissues, discarding all fibrous material.
Larvae and adults tunnel in stems and trunks, wrecking trees. Symptoms range from wilting to total death of foliage.
FERA warned that control options, including the use of insecticides, would have a limited effect.
“Insecticides are likely to be of little or no use in the UK, as the pest is most likely to be introduced on imported trees.”