NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Department of Agriculture advised forest landowners to monitor their sassafras trees after it detected new cases of laurel wilt disease in Robertson and Hamblen counties, and earlier this year, the disease was detected in trees in Montgomery, Cheatham, Dickson and Williamson counties.
“These new detections of this invasive disease show a significant geographic jump across the state,” said state forester David Arnold. “This is yet another unfortunate example of an invasive pest impacting our forests. Landowners should take caution to prevent the spread of this disease if detected on their property.”
Laurel wilt is a fungal disease caused by an invasive pathogen, Raffaelea lauricola, which can affect a range of plants, including sassafras and spicebush in Tennessee. The disease is transmitted by the wood-boring redbay ambrosia beetle and prevents the movement of water within the tree. Choked of water, trees wilt and die within a few weeks or months. Currently, no treatment has been developed that can cure laurel wilt disease or protect trees from infection.
Sassafras is found in all regions of the state. The wood is often used for small woodworking projects, interior finish, cooperage and fence posts. The tree is the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly and is ecologically important.
The best way to prevent the spread of laurel wilt is to avoid movement of firewood or other untreated timber. Laurel wilt is most likely in Tennessee due to human movement of contaminated wood. For more information on sourcing disease-free, treated firewood, visit firewoodscout.org/s/tn.
If infected, trees should be cut down and chipped to prevent further spread. Chips from the infected tree should be destroyed by burning on site or covered with a tarp to prevent spread of the beetles. Stumps should be ground down to the soil level, and no debris of the tree should be moved from the site.
Tennesseans are urged to monitor their sassafras trees for browning of leaves, leaf loss and staining in the inner bark. Anyone who suspects trees might have laurel wilt disease should contact forest health program specialist Sam Gildiner at 615-837-5439 or firstname.lastname@example.org. TDA Division of Forestry staff will assist in identifying the disease and recommend management actions, if appropriate.
The TDA Division of Forestry works to minimize health threats to Tennessee’s forest resources, including mismanagement, insects and disease. To learn more about how Tennessee manages forest health, visit protecttnforests.org.