Apr. 17, 2007 A foreign beetle and an unknown fungus are attacking coastal trees that provide food for birds, bears and butterflies. Foresters are reporting a rising death toll of native red bay trees (Persea borbonia) along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The disease is spreading rapidly, say scientists.
Clemson University researchers and S.C. Forestry Commission personnel are collaborating with their colleagues in other states to try to solve this deadly problem.
“Currently, there is no cure or known control for the disease,” said Steve Jeffers, Clemson plant pathologist. “Federal and state agencies are working together to monitor and slow the outbreak, while we look for ways to deal with it.”
The report “An Ecological Disaster – Extinction of Red Bay Trees in the Southeast” says laurel wilt, the name recently given to this new disease, results in the death of nearly all red bay and sassafras trees in infected areas. The cause of the disease is a fungus vectored by an Asian ambrosia beetle. Both the beetle and fungus are recent introductions into the United States. There is no known method to halt the spread of this disease.
Red bays are common from Virginia to Florida. Seeds from this native tree provide food for turkeys, quail, deer, songbirds and bears. The plants also support three types of butterflies: palamedes, Schaus and spicebush swallowtail. The palamedes lays its eggs on the red bay leaves, and the emerging caterpillar eats the leaves.
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