Common name: Lethal palm yellowing
Scientific name: Candidatus Phytoplasma palmae
Status in Hawaii: Not known to be present in Hawaii
Lethal palm yellowing is caused by a phytoplasma, a primitive type of bacterial parasite that lives within the plant phloem or vascular system. This disease affects at least 37 palm species.
- Once infected, there is no cure for the disease.
- Outbreaks of lethal yellowing have wiped out the majority of the tall-type coconut cultivars in Jamaica and Florida.
- Lethal yellowing has a long asymptomatic phase; it can take 3-9 months before symptoms can be seen. Symptoms vary between palm species.
- In coconuts, look for:
- Premature drop of most/all fruits. The calyx end of the nut will develop a brown/black, water soaked appearance
- Flower necrosis
- Leaves turn yellow, starting with the oldest leaves first. As the yellowing advances the youngest leaves (spear), collapses and hangs from the crown. Death of the apical meristem when ½-⅔ of the crown is yellow.
- Eventually the entire crown dies and leaves a standing trunk. Crown dies 3-5 months after symptoms show.
- Some other species of palm turn red/grey instead of yellow in young leaves. The spear may die first, then the rest of the crown yellows.
- Movement of palms and palm seeds from affected areas.
- Planthoppers (Myndus crudus) vector the lethal yellowing phytoplasma. Can be transmitted by other planthoppers and leafhoppers.The planthopper spreads the bacteria as it feeds and moves from plant to plant.
- Africa, Caribbean, Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Cuba, Belize, Florida.
Best Management Practices
- This species is not found in Hawaii. Prevention and early detection efforts protect Hawaii’s nursery industry and environment.
- Consider sourcing options and pest distribution when purchasing plants.
- BOLO: Be on the lookout! Carefully inspect and monitor palms for symptoms of lethal palm yellowing.
- Report any suspect pests to 643pest.org or by phone 643-PEST (7378).
Other Nursery Pests
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This material was made possible, in part, by a Cooperative Agreement from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). It may not necessarily express APHIS’ views.