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Agricultural Review

N.C. Forest Service finds Laurel wilt disease in Duplin County

The N.C. Forest Service has confirmed that laurel wilt, a devastating fungal disease of redbay and other plants in the laurel family, has been identified in Duplin County in an area near Rose Hill.

The disease has been identified across the Southeast in portions of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. In North Carolina, it was first discovered in Bladen, Columbus, Pender and Sampson counties in 2011. Additional identifications were made in Brunswick County in 2012 and New Hanover County in 2013.

In North Carolina, sassafras, pondberry, pondspice, swampbay and spicebush also fall in the laurel family and could be affected by this disease.

Laurel wilt is introduced into trees by the non-native redbay ambrosia beetle. It is believed the pest can travel about 20 miles per year naturally, but can spread more quickly when transported in wood, such as firewood.

Symptoms of laurel wilt include drooping reddish or purplish foliage. Evidence of redbay ambrosia beetle attack may be found in the main stem; often strings of chewed wood, called frass toothpicks, can be seen sticking out of entry holes. Removal of tree bark reveals black streaking in the outer wood.

Homeowners with dead redbay trees are encouraged to keep cut trees on their property. Dead trees should not be removed to a landfill or off site. 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 Click on “Burning Permits” under the “Quick Links” section.

Female redbay ambrosia beetles bore into trees, carrying a fungus with them. Once the beetle is inside the tree, she makes tunnels and lays eggs. Fungal spores begin to 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. This fungus is fast-acting; trees typically die within a month of infection. Beetles do not feed on the wood of the tree; rather, they feed upon the fungus “farm” they created.

This destructive pest was first discovered in Georgia in 2002. It is believed the fungus arrived in the U.S. along with the redbay ambrosia beetle in wooden crating material from Southeast Asia.

The detection of laurel wilt in Duplin County was reported by N.C. Forest Service staff, and confirmed by N.C. State University’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic laboratory.

To learn more about laurel wilt, go to and follow the links under the Forest Health section, or call Kelly Oten, forest health monitoring coordinator with the N.C. Forest Service, at 919-553-6178, ext. 223.


NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Andrea Ashby, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3001; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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