As some trees fight for the arrival of spring by beginning to produce buds, the laurel wilt winter survey season comes to a close. Laurel wilt, a devastating disease of redbay and other plants in the laurel family, has already been found in six N.C. counties. The disease is best surveyed for in the winter when other trees are bare, providing increased visibility to the dead and dying redbays within a forest.
During the 2014 winter survey season, NCFS Forest Health and Plant Industry personnel searched neighboring, uninfested areas for indications that the disease has spread. Incredibly, few additional spots were added to the existing knowledge of where laurel wilt occurs. There were no occurrences in new counties – inducing a collective sigh of relief … for now.
Despite the relatively good news, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Laurel wilt is projected to continue to spread northwest, north, and northeast within the state. The redbay ambrosia beetle, which vectors the disease, will soon become active in the warming temperatures and begin seeking new host trees to infect. When that happens, we also expect an increase in incidence of positive sites as new hosts become infected and die.
There are no good ways to manage the disease in the forest setting, leaving natural resource professionals feeling somewhat cynical about the future of redbay and other laurel plants in North Carolina.