Monday, October 19, 2015

Carob Trees are in Peril

The Plant Health Directorate last week issued a statement to inform the public that carob trees are falling victim to a beetle known scientifically as Apate monachus and in English as the black borer.

This beetle species is native to Africa from where it has spread to many parts of the world including the Mediterranean region.

It attacks several specie of plant including grapevine, peach, apple, pear, avocado and ornamental trees. In the Mediterranean it has been found feeding mostly on pomegranate and carob trees. The damage is caused by adult beetles which bore into the living wood to feed. The larvae live in dead wood and do not cause any damage to living trees.

The black borer is not a new arrival in the Maltese islands. It was first recorded in 2004 and has been recorded regularly since then. It is a nocturnal species and most of the records are of specimens attracted to light in the north of Malta.  

This beetle is one of several beetle species that arrived in Europe and in Malta from other parts of the world. The most notorious of these are the red palm weevil and the mulberry long-horned beetle both of which are alien pests which caused considerable damage to trees. 

The carob tree is not indigenous to the Maltese islands. It was probably brought to the Maltese islands thousands of years ago and has become one of the most common trees, especially, in agricultural areas.

In the past it was cultivated for the pods which were fed to livestock especially horses, sheep pigs and goats.

Carobs have decreased in importance as they no longer provide fodder. Farmers do not plant it anymore and many old specimens have been uprooted to give way to roads and buildings but the disappearance of the carob tree from the Maltese countryside would change completely the Maltese landscape and the way we think about nature.

Land would look more barren especially in summer when carob trees create a patchwork of green in a land that has been parched dry by lack of rain and scorching sun.

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 26 February 2015.

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