All of the controversy of late about the royal poinciana's place in the Key West urban landscape may soon be nothing but fodder for stories that begin "I remember when . . ."
The island is undergoing an infestation of the Royal Poinciana Caterpillar -melipotis acontioides- and it is capable of defoliating entire trees. They were last seen here during World War II, I believe.
Check your tree for an hour or so before sundown and somewhat after. This is when they ascend the tree for night feeding. They can also be spotted during the hour before sunrise, for those of you that have not made it to bed yet.
Homeowner attempts at controlling the pest are mostly useless. Professional systemic poisoning is the only completely effective treatment. The alternate "biologically safe poison" must be applied to every leaf! (Wait, I sense another war . . .) Another treatment involves burlap wrapping the trunk and changing it on a daily basis and must be done diligently. The creatures must be picked off the burlap and drowned in soapy water twice a day. If your neighbors don't do this as well, you will have a never-ending job.
The defoliation is not guaranteed to kill the tree, but it can and does somewhat frequently.
The recent infestation in St Croix and St. John is rumored to have been hurricane induced.
Only a city wide professional approach can save the trees (If this is what is desired)
~ Jim McFarland