RALEIGH — Laurel wilt, a disease affecting redbay and other plants in the laurel family, was identified in southeastern Robeson County in May, according to the North Carolina Forest Service.
The disease has also been identified across the Southeast in portions of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Sassafras, pondberry, pondspice, swampbay and spicebush also are in the laurel family and could be affected.
Laurel wilt is introduced into the tree by the non-native redbay ambrosia beetle. Female beetles bore into the tree, carrying the fungus. Fungal spores grow in these tunnels, blocking the movement of water from the tree roots and causing the tree to wilt and eventually die from lack of water. Trees typically die within a month of infection.
Symptoms of laurel wilt disease include drooping reddish or purplish foliage. Evidence of redbay ambrosia beetle attack may be found in the main stem; strings of chewed wood, called frass toothpicks, often can be seen sticking out of entry holes. Removal of tree bark reveals black streaking in the outer wood.
It is believed that redbay ambrosia beetle can travel about 20 miles per year, but can spread more quickly when transported in wood to new areas. Proper disposal of redbay includes leaving wood on site, cutting or chipping wood on site, or burning wood on site in compliance with local and state ordinances. In areas where burning is allowed, a permit can be obtained from the N.C. Forest Service through a local burn permit agent, a county ranger’s office or online at ncforestservice.gov.
To learn more about laurel wilt, go to ncforestservice.gov or call Kelly Oten, forest health monitoring coordinator with the N.C. Forest Service, at 919-553-6178, Ext. 223.