This year seems to be a very good year if you are a disease. In California the ficus tree is suffering from a new fungal disease. Branch die back disease is caused by the botryosphaeria fungus has already infected 25% of the region’s fici. With the rapid spread of this disease it is estimated that within 10-30 years all of the ficus tress in the region will be dead. This creates a problem for city officials who will have to remove these and plant new tress. This will also also end an over 70 year legacy of mature trees providing shade for over 10 million residents of the Los Angeles county at a time where the temperature is reaching record heights.
The fungus that infects these trees was discovered in 2008 by researchers studying similar plant diseases attacking agricultural crops. It was not reported for decades but randomly appeared and can now kill tress that are between 60 and 70 years old in only 2 years. This fungal disease is new and has no cure. Part of the problem was it was misidentified as a sooty canker and was only correctly identified in 2012 as a different fungal species. Another issue in this regard is the lack of funding. Most cities and counties do not show much interest in saving these trees due to their roots tearing up sidewalks.
The community has a love/hate relationship with these trees. On one has they cause damage to sidewalks by ripping them up due to their roots needing more space. On the other had these trees provide shade for people and houses. This latter part is causing problems due to the fact that after trees die the house is exposed to more direct sunlight. This causes electric prices in that house to rise and will only continue to rise due to the temperature rising. This also lowers the property value of the house which is very important to the owner if they ever want to sell.
Since there is no cure the best way to stop this disease from spreading is prevention. This fungus is commonly passed on due to pruning. The best way to stop the spread would be to soak your pruning blades in bleach between each use or throw them away. Also, chainsaws are showing high transmission rates due to it being impossible to disinfect them between uses. Using good pruning practices can literally be life and death with these trees.
In the end it appears that these trees are on the decline and there is not much that can be done about it. A good way for this to not happen again would be to not use only one tree in an entire area. This can and will limit problems arising from a whole urban jungle being destroyed at one. It will still cause problems but it will not be as devastating as losing all of these shade providing trees in a relatively short period of time as compared to how long it took for them to grow in the first place.