The palm trees that offer welcome shade along the sun-drenched coasts of Italy are being attacked by voracious bugs.
Up and down the country, tens of thousands of trees are being eaten by an army of red palm weevils. Parks, gardens and seafronts have been targeted in some of Italy’s best-known tourist destinations, including the beach resorts of Tuscany, Sardinia and the Adriatic.
Palms are not indigenous to Italy, but were introduced in the 18th and 19th centuries by wealthy collectors and aristocrats keen to give their estates an exotic look.
“It is really a disaster, there are tens of thousands of palms which are dead or dying,” said Valeria Francatti, an entomologist who is researching ways of combating the weevils. “The weevil gets right into the heart of the tree, so by the time the damage becomes apparent on the outside, it’s already too late.”
In Rome, the bug has caused severe damage to the capital’s historic parks, many of them formerly private gardens surrounding sumptuous private villas such as Villa Sciarra and Villa Torlonia.
A scientist in Rome said it was not possible to use chemicals because many palms were planted near beaches or in towns and cities, where insecticides would pose a risk to human health.
Researchers in Sicily have found they can capture the bugs using traps laced with pheromones, but deploying the contraptions is time-consuming and costly.
by Andy Moreton, with Nick Squires in Rome
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