State officials have declared Laguna Beach ground zero for a deadly threat to California's palm trees.
The discovery of the red palm weevil in two trees in North Laguna is the first time the destructive pest has been found in the United States, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Its presence in California poses a dire threat to landscape palms and the date palm industry.
"It is very serious because the weevil gets inside the trees and sucks the life out of them," said former Mayor Ann Christoph, a Laguna Beach landscape architect. "White fly just hangs around on the leaves of trees, but the weevil goes to the heart of the palms."
Christoph was in the audience of about 300 who attended a meeting Nov. 5 in the City Council Chambers to hear what state and county officials had to say about the weevil and how to detect its presence
The above-capacity crowd was indicative of the concern about the weevil among landscape architects and contractors, arborists, tree trimmers, master gardeners and a few property owners
"It was a good turnout," said Nick Nisson, entomologist with the Orange County agricultural commissioner's office who spoke at the meeting.
"This first meeting targeted industry professionals, but subsequent meetings are planned for other groups, including the general public."
The weevils in North Laguna were discovered by a local tree service that a property owner called in to remove a dead Canary Island palm.
"It was infested, according to the person who brought the dead weevils into us, but we can't confirm that," Nisson said. "The tree had already been hauled away and we never saw it."
Weevils were also discovered in a second tree about 100 yards away on a different street, said Vic Hillstead, city buildings and parks manager.
"The weevil is well enough known around the world for professionals to be familiar with it," Nisson said.
It measures about 1 ½ inches long and ranges in color from the reddish brown to black. Its Latin name is rhynchophorus ferrugineus.
Female weevils bore into the trunks of the palms to lay eggs. Each female may produce 250 eggs, which take three days to hatch.
The larvae, the worm-like stage of the weevils' life span, chew tunnels in the tree up to a yard long for about two months before evolving into the adult stage. The adult weevils live for two to three months, feeding on the palms, mating multiple times and laying eggs.
Gardening and landscaping professionals have been asked to watch for evidence of the weevil in their day-to-day duties. Owners of property with or near palm trees should also be on the lookout.
The most visible signs are excessive dead and dying fronds, a wilting crown, chewed fiber or sawdust falling from the tree, oozing brown sap and exit holes. Pupal cases and dead weevils may litter the base of heavily infested trees.
"If a tree is infested, you can hear the weevils eating and there might be the smell of vomit," Christoph said.
Signs of the weevil — even just a suspicion — should be reported to the state's Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline at (800) 491-1899, the Report A Pest website: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/go/reportapest or to Orange County agricultural commissioner's office at (714) 834-2300.