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Lethal bacteria from Yucatan threatens palm trees in U.S., Caribbean

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A palm tree shades beachgoers in Key Biscayne, Fla. Photo: AP

A fatal bacteria that originated in Yucatan now threatens Florida’s iconic palm trees.

Lethal bronzing also is found in parts of Texas and throughout the Caribbean. The disease has already heavily damaged Jamaica’s coconut plantations.

Some worry it will migrate to California and Arizona, infecting date crops.

But ground zero for the bacteria is the Yucatan Peninsula, where genetic testing shows lethal bronzing likely originated. One hypothesis is that a storm such as 2005’s Hurricane Wilma carried infected treehoppers across the gulf to Tampa.

The disease further spread when winds blew infected bugs to new territories or they hitched rides on vehicles.

Tens of thousands of palm trees have already died from the bacterial disease in the past 10 years, and the pace of its spread is increasing, reports The Associated Press.

The disease turns palm trees to dried crisps in months, with no chance for recovery once they become ill.

“Getting this disease under control is essential because it has the potential to drastically modify our landscape,” said Brian Bahder, an entomologist who studies insect-borne plant diseases.

If nothing is done, Bahder said, “I don’t think all the palm trees will die, but the issue we see will get a lot worse before it gets better.”

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