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Agricultural Review

N.C. Forest Services identifies laurel wilt in Onslow County

The N.C. Forest Service has confirmed that laurel wilt, a devastating disease of redbay and other plants in the laurel family, has been found in Onslow County along N.C. Highway 50 just north of Holly Ridge.

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, Brunswick County in 2012, New Hanover County in 2013 and Duplin County in 2014.

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

Laurel wilt is introduced into the tree by the non-native redbay ambrosia beetle. The female beetle bores into the tree, carrying the fungus. Once the beetle is inside the tree, she makes tunnels and lays eggs. Fungal spores 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 extremely fast-acting, and trees typically die within a month of infection.

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

It is believed that redbay ambrosia beetle can travel about 20 miles per year naturally, but can spread more quickly when beetles are transported in wood, such as firewood, to new areas. 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 Look for “Burn Permits” under the quick links section.

The redbay ambrosia beetle was first discovered in Georgia in 2002. It is believed the fungus associated with the beetle arrived in the U.S. along with the beetle in wooden crating material from Southeast Asia. The detection of laurel wilt in Onslow County was reported by N.C. Forest Service personnel and confirmed by N.C. State University’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic.

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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