Another one bites the dust! During recent winter surveys by the N.C. Forest Service, laurel wilt was detected for the first time in Duplin County. Laurel wilt is a devastating invasive disease of redbay trees. This new find makes Duplin County the seventh county in the state in which the disease had been found. Previously, it had been detected in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, Pender and Sampson counties.
To date, approximately half a billion trees in the Southeastern U.S. have been killed by laurel wilt. It will likely continue to spread and continue to kill trees. The disease is caused by a fungal pathogen that is delivered by the redbay ambrosia beetle. When the beetle attacks a new tree, it inoculates the tree with a fungus. The fungus, which is also the food source of the beetle, obstructs the transportation tissues of the tree. As a result of this obstruction, water and nutrients are unable to move within the tree and death occurs in just a few weeks.
The beetle, which is native to Southeast Asia, was first detected in the U.S. in 2002 near Savannah, Ga. In the following years, it spread rapidly to nearby states but was not found in North Carolina until 2011. While the disease has only affected redbay trees in North Carolina, sassafras, avocado, spicebush, pondberry (a federally endangered species), pondspice (a species of concern in North Carolina), and other plants in the laurel family are also susceptible (mountain-laurel is not affected). As it continues to spread, it will also likely have a significant impact on our native butterfly populations.
The N.C. Forest Service urges North Carolinians not to move firewood. If infested material is moved from one place to another, insects and disease pathogens may accidentally be spread to new habitats, giving the disease the ability to spread more rapidly and reach places it may not have otherwise. The same recommendation is given to reduce the spread of the emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease and other invasive species.