In Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Tuscany, Sardinia, the Adriatic Riviera, and Liguria, palm trees are being killed by the red palm weevil, a parasite-like beetle originally from Asia that was first spotted in the Mediterranean in the 1980s. Corriere della sera recently sounded an alarm, estimating that Rome could be without palm trees by 2015.
The killer insect, whose larvae excavates holes up to a metre long in the trunk of a palm tree eventually killing it, is also wreaking havoc along the Côte d'Azur and in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Egypt and Morocco. Called a ‘silent slaughter,' it has claimed thousands of palm trees throughout Italy. In some areas the beetles are so numerous they are entering private homes, as they have in Sabaudia, near Rome.
The Lazio region has been especially hard hit. ‘We need the Civil Protection Agency to step in and treat this as if it were an epidemic... we need at least 5 million euros to stop the beetles from spreading,' says Antimo Palumbo, a tree expert from Rome. It costs 1,500 euro to properly dispose of a palm tree that has been killed by the insect: the trees must be cut down, wrapped up, taken to a place where the larvae cannot infect other plants and burned.
In an effort to raise awareness about the destruction of Italy's palms, an important part of the country's ecosystem and landscape, Palumbo and others are also lobbying for government action. In response, environment superintendent in Rome, Fabio De Lillo, has promised to hold an international conference and put together a special commission by summer 2010.