SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Dozens of the palm trees San Francisco planted after Loma Prieta to evoke feelings of California dreaming along the Embarcadero have been dying a slow death, a city official said Thursday.

So far, four of the Canary Island date palms have been replaced because of a very contagious common fungus, fusarium wilt, that has infected another 26 trees along the strip. And 34 more have browning fronds that are a symptom of the disease, which interferes with a tree’s ability to absorb water.

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“We noticed about three years ago,” said Rachel Gordon, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

“It’s a highly contagious disease that we’re trying to keep under control with regular treatment as well as good pruning techniques.”

Dedicated saws are now used for each of the 222 palms to prevent an infected blade from spreading the fungus and nutrients that discourage its growth have been added to the soil.

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“The palm trees on the Embarcadero really have become iconic for San Francisco. It really has become part of the landscape,” Gordon said.

The infected palms will survive longer than they would in the tropics because of San Francisco’s famous fog and the Bay Area’s moist climate. But fungicides, nutrients and safe pruning techniques can only delay the inevitable.

“We don’t want to lose the trees,” Gordon said, but every tree that becomes infected will eventually die and need to be removed. Planting a new palm resistant to the disease in its place will be expensive.

“To replace one of the trees costs about $35,000. We don’t have a lot of extra money to do the tree replacement,” she said.

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