Do Termites Eat Palm Tree Roots

Do Termites Eat Palm Tree Roots?

Termites will eat living wood as well as dead.

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Termites, which many people associate with the destruction of the wood in their homes, will also eat the wood of living trees. Palms, unfortunately, are not immune. If you think your palm may have a termite problem, check for the characteristic signs they leave in their wake and respond accordingly.

A World of Palms

Palms, which comprise many species in the Arecaceae family, are a widely ranging collection of genera. Although their specific U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones depend on species, they are tropical or subtropical plants, and therefore generally adapted to warm climates. They don’t tolerate freezing weather well, though a few will put up with light frosts. Although their shapes vary widely, palms usually grow on a thick single stalk with feathery fronds branching from the top. Trunks can either be smooth or textured, and grow alone or in groups.

Termite Telltales

Termites leave telltale signatures, so if your palm is weakening and you’ve had trouble with termites before or at other places in your yard or home, check for the signs. Termites often make tunnels up the side of the tree, leaving crusty, pellet-like, wood-colored debris in their wake, and they can sometimes be found beneath the soil at the base of a tree. However, termites can prey upon a tree for years without necessarily causing damage, so if you see signs of termites but your tree isn’t exhibiting problems, call in an expert before taking action.

Root Predation

Termites often enter palms through the roots, and work their way upward. As they move, they chew through, ingest and excrete the wood, leaving tunnels of structurally weak areas. When they have been inside a tree for a long time, they may weaken it substantially. However, they may not always cause a great deal of damage, so before resorting to chemical use that may be bad for plants or people in the garden, get an assessment.

Management by Prevention

The best termite management strategy is prevention. You can take steps to substantially reduce the chances that termites will be drawn to your yard by raking up fallen wood debris, picking up extra pieces of lumber or wood after projects, and refraining from leaving anything woody near your house or palm trees. Do not overwater palms, as termites prefer moist wood. If you suspect your tree has severe structural damage, call an arborist to treat it through site-specific injections or remove the tree if it cannot be saved.

How to Treat Termites in Palm Trees?

Every homeowner in southern regions knows about the termites.

That this nasty insect can attack your property, eat all the structural timber and bring destruction to your home and your bank account.

There’re hundreds of pest control offices and termite fighting methods. All this is something people know.

What they usually do not know is that termites do not only attack the houses, but also living trees. Right now I want to talk to you about that beautiful palm tree that grows just in front of your house.

So lets find out do termites eat palm trees?

Why termites attack a palm tree?

First of all, which termites we are talking about? There’re three main families of this pest:

Surely, that would not be the Drywood termite’s, they nest in and eat only, logically, absolutely dry wood. So, they have no interest in your strong and healthy palm.

Same as the Dampwood termites. These ones prefer decaying, wet and rotting wood, so those you would with better chance find in the old stump, than the living tree.

We are left with Subterranean termites. These termites live and build their nest in the soil, where they can get enough moisture. Wetness is essential for them, because they are not adapted to extract the water from the wood, like the drywood termites.

This is why fixing your plumbing is usually one of the first recommendations for your house protection against subterranean termites.

Why it’s important to fight termites in palm tree?

There two major reasons to take care of the infested tree. First reason is that this will help you to avoid the infestation of your house. If the tree is in nearby your building – it brings termites very close to the structure.

Trust me, it will not take them too much time to figure out where they can forage the best wood. So, unless you think that keeping your fingers crossed will do the trick, you better work on getting rid of the termite nest in your garden.

Sometimes you might think that in your case you shouldn’t be worried, because you’ve done the preventive treatments to protect your house.

You’ve done the soil treatment, and wood treatment, and you have monitors with baiting stations every few meters…should you then let little bastards be and live in their tree? Ehm, no.

Think about it – after certain time, the termite colony growing inside the tree core will weaken the trunk.

To build their nest termites chew on the cellulose of the tree and create carton corridors, that are not making the structure any more stable.

After the colony grows enough, it will take just a strong blow of wind to break the tree and make it fall on your, otherwise fully protected, house.

What are the signs of the palm tree infestations?

Another possibility is that subterranean termites will build the mud tube on the trunk, then you’re lucky and you have noticed the infestation in good time.

If there is a chance to expose the roots without damaging the tree, see If there are small holes like drillings on them, also pay attention if the wood at the base of the palm looks damaged.

Should I cut it or treat it?

It’s quite hard to tell if the tree should be remover or treated. There’re special people for detecting this – tree doctors or arborists. If you’re not sure what to do – call for them. The problem with the palm tree is that it’s basically has just a trunk and no branches, so removing part of the tree is not an option.

If the specialists find that the tree is a goner – cut it and make sure you don’t leave the infested stump in the ground.

How to treat the infested palm tree?

The methods of termite treatment inside a living tree are pretty much the same as the ones for the infested house or timber.

So, here’s what you can do:

  • termiticide barrier;
  • foam or liquid termiticide injection;
  • baiting.

The most popular method of getting rid of the termites in a living tree is to treat the soil around it, to form a protective barrier.

Some of the termiticide, that can be used for this treatment just repel the insects, and are more of a preventive measure, while the others, such as Termidor or Premise, have no smell or taste, so they do not keep termites away.

Instead, they have the poison of the delayed action, that the foraging workers bring inside the nest, after passing through the treated soil, and it kills the whole colony in a matter of days.

For this treatment you’ll need to dig a trench around the tree base in 3-foot radius and pour the insecticide in the solution needed into it. Usually, the strong termiticides, that has Fipronil or other hazardous chemical as the active ingredient can be used only be the specially certified pest operators.

If you use the product that is allowed for the DIY treatment, make sure you read the label and avoid having it washed away into the environment, where it can damage the wildlife.

For the treatment of the tree itself and the termites inside it, you will have to drill small holes, that will let you inject insecticide into the galleries of the nest. Usually the easiest way to reach all the pests inside the palm Is to use the insecticide in foam form.

Those you can find in the form of ready-to-use aerosols (Premise, Spectracide) or liquefied, so you can foam them up with the special equipment. Some of this foams kills on contact; others have delayed poisoning action.

You can also use the liquid termiticide for injecting it inside the trunk. But this will be less likely efficient, because the foam has an ability to expand and fill out even the pace that are deep in the core of the colony. What you can use it for is spraying the outside of the tree for repelling the possible future invaders.

One more thing you can do is to install baiting stations around the tree.

The idea of baiting is that the termites start feeding on the bait that is inside the trap (some form of the cellulose) and you can monitor their activity.

When you see that the trap is infested and the workers are constantly visiting it for forage you add the termiticide inside and the workers bring the poison back into the colony which will eventually die.

Renewing the baits placed in your garden, will also give you a way of seeing if any termite activity is going on and start dealing with the infestation before it becomes a real problem.

Here you can learn more information about termite bait systems: Advance, Green, CSIRO, Nemesis, Exterra, Firstline, Terminate. Also find out how to make baits by yourself and how to refill them?

What to do with the tree after?

For the health of the tree you better check with the arborist professional. He will tell you what is a condition of the palm and if it has to be reinforced with some metal constructions to make sure it doesn’t fall.

Useful articles

If you interested in more information of termites we recommend you to read the following articles:

Helpful video

What does the termite nest look like in palm tree:


So, after all that has been said, let me repeat – don’t believe guys on internet that say there’s no possible way the termites can thrive on a living tree.

Termites are different and what is uncharacteristic for one specie is good habit for another.

If you got a palm tree infested in your garden, take care of it. If you’re not familiar with the methods – call the pest control operator and he will do everything for you.

But ignoring an active subterranean termite colony that is nested so close to your home is always a bad idea.

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Host plants / species affected

Main hosts

List of symptoms / signs

Damage by Coptotermes most frequently occurs in mature trees, although it can occur at earlier stages of growth. Coptotermes usually invade trees via the soil and bore into the tree through the roots. Sometimes the attack is secondary, after the tree has been damaged by fire or fungal infection ( Cowie et al., 1989 ). Once a tree is infested, Coptotermes often hollow out or ‘pipe’ the heartwood of the trunk; although in most cases this may not be fatal to the tree, it does greatly reduce the value of the timber ( Chan, 1983 ; Harris, 1971 ; Greaves et al., 1967 ). The most severely damaged trees can be so weakened that they are prone to be blown over by strong winds ( Dhanarajan, 1969 ).

Attack can be above ground or at ground level. A common place for termite damage to trees is about 23 cm below ground at the fork of the tap root. On contact with a root, termites tunnel through it and eat into cambium and sapwood and then into the stem. In dry conditions they may be attracted by plant sap for moisture. Trees are easily blown down where roots have been destroyed. On oil palm and coconut, termites can feed just under the bark or under leaf bases. Large cavities can be also eaten out of trees.

Prevention and control


A good, up-to-date summary of insectic >Wiseman and Eggleton (1994) , while Logan et al. (1990) provide a thorough review of non-chemical methods of control.

It has been suggested by Cowie et al. (1989) that there are only two effective and economically viable methods of controlling Coptotermes in the forestry industry. The first is by insectic >Greaves et al., 1967 ; Hadlington, 1987 ). However, this method requires a skilled labour force to ensure proper insectic >Gray and Butcher, 1969 ).

Due to the variable regulations around (de-)registration of pesticides, we are for the moment not including any specific chemical control recommendations. For further information, we recommend you visit the following resources:

  • EU pesticides database (
  • PAN pesticide database (
  • Your national pesticide guide

The greatest losses to the value of timber usually occur in plantation forestry systems where fast-growing exotic tree species are planted. It is these exotic species which prove to be most vulnerable to severe termite attack. Generally, indigenous trees in natural forests are rarely badly damaged by termite attack, presumably because they have evolved defence mechanisms against indigenous termite species ( Harris, 1955 ; Lee and Wood, 1971 ). There are some exceptions to this rule, the most relevant being the attack by Coptotermes acinaciformis and C. frenchi on Eucalyptus trees in Australia, which are responsible for up to 92% of the pre-harvest damage to trees in virgin forest, and 64% in younger managed forests ( Greaves et al., 1967 ). In both natural and managed forests, it is usually those trees which are stressed (for example by water deficit, fire damage, or attack by other pests) that are most susceptible to attack from termites.

An overview of the impact of termites on the forestry industry, and methods of control in the Indo-Malaysian and African regions, is prov >Cowie et al. (1989) . The most serious damage to mature forestry trees is from Coptotermes, especially in South-East Asia and Australia. The economic importance of Coptotermes in Peninsular Malaysia has been reviewed by Tho and Kirton (1990) . In some exotic plantations of Araucaria and Pinus in Malaysia, up to 100% of trees can be attacked by Coptotermes species (especially C. elisae) and can become a major limitation to re-afforestation schemes ( Dhanarajan, 1969 ; Tho, 1974 ). In urban areas and rural settlements, Coptotermes are the main cause of damage to wood-based building materials in Malaysia ( Kirton, 1995 ).

Under natural conditions in the Malaysian rain forest Coptotermes may be rare. On clearing trees, other species of termite are killed and waste vegetation becomes an />
Although Coptotermes mainly attack trees, they sometimes damage crops as well. For example, C. formosanus has been reported as damaging groundnuts and other food crops in China and Japan ( Sands, 1973 ). Seasonal changes in foraging groups can affect the amount of damage that occurs. Attacks on healthy young rubber trees in Malaysia by C. curvignathus can occur within 3-4 weeks.

Palm trees can be Termite Central

One of our service technicians was recently called to a home in Caboolture after a local resident noticed some termite activity on a fence post and palm tree in their backyard. Upon inspection, the technician discovered two large termite nests (Microtermes) in the top of the palm tree, with leads running from the base of the tree and up 4 metres into the foliage.

Palm trees have aggressive root systems and hold lots of moisture, which makes them an ideal environment for termites. While the timber in a live palm tree is not exactly what a termite is after for food, they offer an ideal nesting place. As these palm trees were quite close to the house, they presented a very large risk in allowing the termites access to the home itself. This is one reason why it is very important to ensure that there are no gardens within about a meter of any structure.

How did we treat these termites?

This was quite a delicate job. After injecting all of the termite leads (the mud trails you can see on the outside of the palm tree) with a special termiticide compound, we dug a trench around base of the palm tree and applied more of the termiticide via a hand spray. By treating the leads and surrounding the base of the tree with the compund, the termites were unable to get to their food source.

This termiticide works by transferring from each termite that comes into contact with it to the rest of the colony. As termites are a very social insect, they spread the treatment throughout the nest, killing all termites that come into contact with it. This makes the termiticide an extremely safe and effective solution.

The all important follow up visit

Part of our treatment for termites includes having us come back to check the effectiveness of the treatment, and to do any retreating that may be required, until we are sure the problem is resolved. ‘Guaranteed Gone’ is our commitment to you – if they come back, so do we!

On the three week follow up visit we found that all of the leads had dried up, as the termites were no longer able to reach their food source. With the termites essentially locked in the nest, kookaburras had also feasted on them. We knocked the nest down from the tree and found a small number of termites remaining behind the nest, slowly dying from lack of food and the effects of the treatment, which we took care of to finish the job.

It’s important to realise from this that termites are still active in winter! To ensure that your home is free from these dangerous pests, annual timber pest inspections, which not only check the structure but also the surrounding yard, are incredibly important.

What if you have suspect you might have termites?

First thing is: leave them alone! If you attempt to kill them with bug spray, or dig through the dirt or open up a wall to find them, you risk causing them to begin to hide, making them much harder to find and treat successfully.

Call us immediately here at Amalgamated Pest Control, and we will be out to take care of the problem for you. We are the experts in treating your termite problem the right way.

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