Planting expert warns of new palm disease

Importation of offshoots from Morocco could introduce deathly disease to the GCC.

An expert has warned that growing demand for Moroccan date palms could expose the GCC to a disease that can decimate date palm populations, potentially threatening nurseries and landscaping projects.

Speaking to Commercial Outdoor Design, Franck Marionnet, general manager of palm nursery at Wathba Marionnet, said that trends to import species of palms from Morocco were increasing the likelihood of the fusarium fungus disease coming into the region.

The fusarium fungus triggers Bayoud disease, which causes the leaves on one side of the palm to dry, followed by the death of the tree. First discovered around 100 years ago in Morocco, there is no known treatment for the disease.

"The fusarium fungus] has destroyed more than half of the palm groves in Morocco and has spread easterly through the trade of offshoots to Algeria and reached the east of Africa,"? said Marionnet. "There is nowadays a trend to plant in the Gulf a variety [of palm] from Morocco called medjool, and it is risky to import offshoots."

Previously, the Gulf has been safe from the fungus because the medjool has had limited appeal for the local date market. However increasing numbers are being imported commercially because medjool dates are favoured for export to the more lucrative European and US markets.

If imported from affected areas, offshoots of medjool palms could potentially destroy palm trees in the Gulf region. The vast majority of trees used in landscaping projects are date palms.

According to Marionnet, palms for landscaping projects tend to be selected on the basis of cost, rather than species, meaning 'safe' palms grown from tissue cultures are rarely used for landscaping. Plant bio-tech firm Wathba Marionnet specialises in the propagation of trees by tissue culture.

The warning came after the recent introduction by the Ministry of Environment and Water of new legislation banning the import of palms from countries affected by palm diseases, particularly the red palm weevil disease.

Other known palm diseases include Al-Wijam, a phytoplasma disease of date palm, reported in Saudi Arabia in 2007, whose symptoms include leaf stunting and yellow streaking of leaves.

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