L A JOLLA - Something mysterious is happening in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla -- palm trees are dying and many are asking why.
Less than a year ago, the trees looked lush and healthy. These days, the trees have yellowing or missing fronds. The museum's long-time arborist gave an unexpected explanation to the sickly-looking trees.
"He tested the soil, did some other tests presumably and said in his opinion all the available evidence pointed to poisoning," said Charles Castle, the museum's Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer.
10News spoke with Master Arborist Brad Brown who examined the trees and gave his own independent opinion.
"You're always going to look at the area at the bottom, what's going on down there," Brown said.
At the bottom of more than half the more than dozen trees were pock marks at roughly the same spot on each.
"These here, these mechanical injuries," observed Brown, "I don't think the holes or the mechanical injury is what's causing the die back, I think it's something else."
When asked whether he thought someone could be deliberately harming these trees Brown said, "Someone could be."
But he said it was unlikely based on clues that indicate a much simpler explanation.
"The soil is extremely wet, there's tons of weed in here," he said. "Seeing this fibrous matting here to me is an indication of root stress."
Brown said he believes the problem is likely linked to maintenance issues. He saw another clue.
"I think these are an indication of a vascular disease," he said as he pointed to an array of reddish brown spots all over the lower trunk of one of the more sickly-looking trees.
Brown provides expert testimony in tree poisoning civil suits.
"It definitely happens quite often for signage issues, view issues," he said.
But poison kills trees faster. The museum's Prospect Street trees started getting sick last summer at the same time as the hedges around them started to die, according to Castle.
"Our hope is that no one is deliberately doing anything," said Castle.
Castle said the museum's arborist recommended using a special treatment last summer, but that method has not improved the situation. The museum will begin removing the trees soon.