Experts demand the truth about Disneyland's dying palm trees

Independent inspection shows invasive red palm weevils have joined coconut leaf beetles in destroying Magic Road's expensive trees

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 4:06am

The government is under pressure to make public its health reports on the afflicted palm trees lining the avenue approaching Hong Kong Disneyland after an independent inspection yesterday found their condition deteriorating.

The government says the expensive Canary Island date palms on Magic Road are infested by coconut leaf beetles but tree experts say they have also been attacked by the more invasive red palm weevils.

Observations yesterday during a visit by the South China Morning Post with University of Hong Kong ecology expert Jim Chi-yung found evidence of the weevils' presence although none of the adult insects were spotted.

Dozens of small holes were found in most of the 72 trees affected and pounding on their trunks produced a hollow sound indicating that parts of the interior had been eaten away, cutting water and nutrient supplies to the leaves.

The worst-affected trees had more than 30 of the small holes near the base of their trunks in which grubs, their excreta and decayed wood were hidden.

Jim said the number of dying leaves on the trees was three times that of a healthy palm.

Workers were seen removing dried and yellowing leaves yesterday.

Jim and a fellow member of the government's expert panel on tree management, Dr Eric Lee Yin-tse, called for the release of the maintenance contractor's monthly health reports on the trees. They said little information had been released by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

It is not known whether the palms - bought from Australia and stored in the mainland to avoid quarantine inspections - were infested on arrival.

Jim said the weevils, which often attack Canary Island date palms, were difficult to spot as their larvae remained in holes drilled in the trunk until they hatched and the adults flew out, a process usually taking 100 days.

He also said the trees, which grow better in a dry environment, had been mismanaged. Their crowns were surrounded by decorative ferns, which would accumulate water and attract insects while a thick layer of moss found on the bark indicated they had been over-watered by tall sprinklers nearby.

The department, which has been responsible for the trees' maintenance since 2006, could not say yesterday how many were infested, the species of pests found or how the trees are being cured.

"The government has spent HK$10 million importing 100 palms, which could be a Guinness World Record," Jim said.

"The public has the right to know what's happening to the trees."

Lee agreed, adding it was important to know how the trees were being treated.

He said his previous inspection of the trees found termites attacking at least seven trees. "Planting shrubs near the base of the palms was the wrong decision. [Shrubs] need frequent irrigation, which will threaten the palms," he said.

The department said it would not disclose the reports but would seek advice from the expert panel. "The current pest control measures are effective," a spokeswoman said.

Vice-president for operations at Hong Kong Disneyland Damien Lee Tang-ho declined to comment on whether the park's image would be affected, adding that it had no plans to replace the trees at this stage.