Bugs attack HK$10m palm trees near Disneyland in latest tree disaster

Trees near Disneyland bought for HK$10m by government are attacked by bugs in new blot on city's poor greenery management record

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 4:41am

Palm trees costing millions of dollars that line Magic Road to Hong Kong Disneyland are dying after being attacked by at least one kind of invasive foreign pest.

It is the latest in a series of disasters to befall trees in the city - from the brown root rot invasion, which has hit banyan trees in Kowloon Park, to an earlier infestation of bugs along Magic Road.

Many experts blame poor management by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

The 72 Canary Island date palms are crammed together in pairs, their crowns overlapping and their leaves drying up and turning yellow.

They will die "unless they get immediate treatment", said Professor Jim Chi-yung of the University of Hong Kong. He also warned of the danger of dead trees falling onto cars.

The government bought 100 palm trees from Australia in 2001 for HK$100,000 each - a total bill of HK$10 million and 10 times the price of normal palms.

Last night the department said at least one of the palms had to be replaced because of its deteriorating condition.

Jim suspected the palms were being attacked by the red palm weevil, which originates in Southeast Asia. These beetles are known for attacking trees that are already in a weakened state.

In 2004, about 16 of the palm trees outside Disneyland had to be burned after being attacked by red palm weevils.

But another exotic pest, the coconut leaf beetle, was found in the trees in May, a leisure department spokeswoman confirmed.

The department is applying insecticides to the trees twice a week, but it has still not determined which of the two pests is responsible for the latest attack. Jim added: "The trees could have been under stress for a long time for several reasons, including poor management."

A landscape consultant doubted that the trees could be saved. "They are incurable. No fresh leaves can grow," he said.

Just weeks ago, it was decided to remove some dying 400-year-old banyans in Kowloon Park because of brown root rot disease, again exposing the poor management of the city's greenery.

Hong Kong, which lacks a tree protection law, has lost more than one-tenth of its 527 heritage trees since 2004.

Despite the opening of the Tree Management Office in 2010, trees are still supervised by more than 10 agencies, which lack the resources and trained staff necessary, causing confusion and a lack of co-ordination.

In 2009, a fatal accident involving a falling tree brought the problem of tree management to the public's attention.

The government subsequently appointed the chief secretary - the city's second most powerful official - to oversee efforts to improve tree management.

But in April, the government was accused of covering up the spread of brown root rot disease, which was first identified in Kowloon Park in 2007.