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What's happening to our trees?

Redbay tree infected with Laurel Wilt disease in the Cape Road
Cemetery, in the median of South Phillips Parkway, South of the
Morrell Operations Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Redbay tree infected with Laurel Wilt disease in the Cape Road Cemetery, in the median of South Phillips Parkway, South of the Morrell Operations Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 45th Space Wing Natural Assets office (45CES/CEAN) has recently received a number of inquiries from people/co-workers wondering what is killing the oak trees on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

As conservationists, it is gratifying to know folks are observing nature on CCAFS and are genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of these unique natural resources.

However, the dead and dying trees observed are not oaks, but rather Redbay trees (Persea borbonia).

What is causing the death of these large and beautiful trees, not only on CCAFS but throughout the southeastern United States?

The culprit (or actually culprits) is Laurel Wilt disease, caused by the invasive Redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) and a microscopic fungus (Raffaelea lauricola). The beetle, no more than one sixteenth of an inch (2 millimeters), carries the fungus on its mouthparts, and as it bores into the bay tree, it infects its host with the fungus.

The fungus blocks the water conducting cells of the tree causing it to wilt and eventually die, making the beetle and fungus quite the deadly duo. Once infected, most trees succumb to the disease within 18 months.

The ambrosia beetle is native to Southeast Asia and was first identified in this country near Port Wentworth, outside Savannah, Ga., in 2002. It is believed the beetle was introduced from solid wood packing and crating material used for shipping imported goods into the U.S.

Unfortunately, two things; (1) Laurel wilt disease is not limited to Redbay trees, but can affect other tree species in the Laurel family (Lauraceae) family, including Avocado trees; and (2), there is currently no effective treatment or cure for the tree once it becomes infected with the fungus.

The only management technique being employed at this time is curtailing the transport of infested host material such as firewood, logs and plants. To date, there have been two Laurel Wilt specific symposiums and numerous researchers are studying various treatment possibilities, especially in light of the potential agricultural industry impact from the affects to Florida's avocado crops.

There has been a Redbay seed collection program established in an effort to help conserve genetic material from Redbay species (Persea) should populations become threatened by Laurel Wilt.

Only time will tell if the entire Redbay population becomes threatened or endangered and if seed collection and nursery grown plants can save these beautiful trees from extinction.

The 45th Space Wing will continue to track progress with research efforts to treat this disease and employ whatever means that become available to restore the 45 SW Redbay populations.