Laurel Wilt Identified in Cobb County

Laurel wilt, a devastating disease of woody plants in the laurel family (Lauraceae), has been identified in a stand of sassafras (Sassafras albidum) trees at McFarlane Nature Park in Marietta, Georgia. Laurel wilt is known to occur from Texas to North Carolina, south through Florida and north to Kentucky.

As many as 300 million redbay (Persea borbonia) trees, a third of the population, have been killed by laurel wilt in the southeastern Atlantic region of the United States. The disease has also killed large numbers of sassafras trees in forests and landscapes, and avocado (Persea americana) trees in commercial production.

Laurel wilt is caused by a fungus (Raffaelea lauricola) that is carried by an insect, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus). These organisms are native to Asia, are invasive pests in North America, and can be easily transported to new areas by movement of infested wood products and firewood.

Signs and symptoms of laurel wilt include:
  • Deciduous species → Drooping, discolored leaves that quickly fall
  • Evergreen species → Drooping, discolored leaves that are often retained for many months
  • Dark discoloration of the sapwood (streaking)
  • Boring activity → Numerous beetle holes and sawdust tubes

Once a tree is infected with laurel wilt its survival is highly unlikely. If you believe you have laurel wilt please contact your local Extension agent, Georgia Forestry Commission representative, or certified arborist to confirm its presence. Eradication and sanitation options will then be provided.

As always, prevention is key! Remember to use local firewood and other locally sourced woods when possible.

 by Hallie Harriman, Cobb County Extension – Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent

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