José Plumed

Jose Plumed

We talked with the «guardian» of the Botanic Garden of the University of Valencia about the red palm weevil. The arboriculture technician José Plumed has been a pioneer in the use of some vegetable sanitation practices in palm trees, a new method that is still perfecting.

Will palm trees disappear?
SIf we can’t find effective remedies, they will. We need a hundred per cent effective cure in order to solve the problem, because just one fertilised female can destroy the rest of the trees. What seems clear is that it will not be easy to control, as happened with the Argentine ant that came into Europe from South America displacing the European kind and that has already reached the north of Africa.

How has the work in the Botanic Garden changed ever since the weevil’s alarm went off?
We have had to invest more time in palm trees. We fumigate them once a month and we are all the time looking up searching for symptoms. We have been spending a lot a of money in prevention for more than six years now. We have three infected palm trees. I have already annihilated all the insects in all phases in them, but right now we could have another 50 infected, but we can’t be sure until the symptoms appear. We are using prevention methods on these trees and we are protecting them as much as possible. Even so, it is necessary that everyone collaborates in acting together, because individual strategies rarely work out.

Which prevention methods do you use?
We have always fought an ecological battle. If the infected palm trees are quickly detected, with some luck, larvae will not have reached the apical bud yet. We can quickly prune the affected areas and, if the central parts remain unaffected, then the palm tree will grow again. It suffers a physiological kind of stress, but it survives. However, if the central part is partially affected and we prune this part, it might mean that it will grow bent, or double…it is a very recent technique, it is only five or seven years old.

Can a plague like this affect the biodiversity of the area?
Yes, of course. Palm trees bring with them fauna. There are many insects that help in the pollination of palm trees and that eat pollen. Many animals, like the thrush, also scatter the fruits. All parrots in Valencia come here to eat off these palm trees.

Don’t you think that, now that the harm done by the red palm weevil is so evident, more attention will be paid to the battle against this plague?

No. If the city councillor says that in Valencia there are no red palm weevils yet, how will they listen to us? In the Botanic Garden we demand that all palm trees should be treated because the more weevils are outside, the more chances are our Palmetum will be devoured, since it is in the middle of an infected town. Politicians hide this problem to the population because, on the one hand, they don’t have a solution, and, on the other hand, it would be extremely expensive to try to control it. Besides, there is a research that shows that a kind of fungi is effective against the weevil and, have you heard about it? Is there anyone really interested in the red palm weevil?

But if palm trees attract tourism, why don’t politicians get a hundred per cent involved?
The Phoenix palm trees, for instance, are not accepted in Europe as a European species. For Europeans an oak and a palm tree are very different. They consider it a non indigenous plant and that is why they don’t approve proper regulations for its protection.

Cintia Soriano i José Vicente Bernabeu. Students of Journalism at the University of Valencia.

«It is necessary that everyone collaborates in acting together, because individual strategies rarely work out »
© Mètode 2012 - 74. Online only. The Enchanted Cove - Summer 2012