Southeast Texas wouldn’t be the same without its tall pines. The mighty oak stands proud across the Hill Country and can be found far and wide across Central Texas and other parts of the state. But in the Rio Grande Valley and up the long coastline of Texas the palm rules, a reminder that parts of the state cross the invisible sub tropic longitude where these swaying palms dance constantly to the trade winds of the warm, salty Gulf.

But many types of palms in Texas may be in trouble now thanks to the introduction of the South American palm weevil (Rhynchophorus palmarum) in the Valley. First detected in May, the insect is a risky pest that has the potential to decimate oil and coconut palms in the Valley and others parts of the state where palms are found.

“We have been watching for the arrival of two potentially dangerous weevils to South Texas, the South American weevil and the red palm, or Asian, weevil. Using some 40 traps spread from South Padre Island to the Upper Valley, we discovered two South American weevils about a mile apart near Alamo in the early summer months,” reports Dr. Raul Villanueva, an entomologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

Of the two weevil varieties, Villanueva says the South American palm weevil (SAPW) presents the greatest problem because it can deliver two methods of destruction.

“Starting at the crown of a palm tree, the weevil will eat its way to the trunk, laying eggs along the way. As these eggs hatch, more weevils eat the tree from the inside, and worse, the South American weevil is known to carry a nematode (Radinaphelenchus cocophilus) that will deliver a deadly fungus to the palm. At this point there is no cure, the tree will die,” he said.

Villanueva says spraying the trees with specific insecticides will work, but it is costly, and by the time the first signs of damage are visible, it is too late for a chemical solution.

While the presence of the South American weevil in South Texas is cause for alarm, the entomologist says so far only the two weevils have been detected.

“Shortly after we discovered these weevils earlier this year, USDA dispatched a team of about 20 entomologists and technicians who established a much larger network of traps across the Valley, and after 4 to 5 months of comprehensive collection, no other weevils have been found. This is encouraging,” he added.