Laurel wilt, a plant-killing disease, found in Pamlico County for first time

RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) – The North Carolina Forest Service says a devastating disease has popped up in another Eastern Carolina county.

Officials say laurel wilt, a disease of redbay and other plants in the laurel family has now been detected in 19 North Carolina counties.

It was found on private property in the southwestern corner of Pamlico County, after the recent April discovery of the disease in Pitt County, according to the Forest Service.

They say laurel wilt has been found in 12 states from Texas to Virginia and in the following North Carolina counties: Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, and Wayne.

Officials say trees are infected with the fungus that causes laurel wilt disease by the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle.

The Forest Service says redbay ambrosia beetles fly short distances from tree to tree, and humans aid in spreading the pest over long distances when moving firewood.

Symptoms listed by the Forest Service for the disease include drooping reddish-purple foliage, and evidence of a redbay ambrosia beetle attack may be found in the main stem with threads of chewed wood seen sticking out of entry holes, called frass toothpicks.

The Forest Service says sassafras, redbay, swampbay, pondberry, pondspice, and spicebush can all be affected by this disease. Redbay trees infected with laurel wilt retain their leaves even after the tree has died allowing for easier detection during the winter months.

Officials say there isn’t a reliable treatment for laurel wilt. They ask homeowners to cut dead redbay trees, leave the wood on-site, cut or chip wood on-site, or burn it.

Another invasive beetle, the emerald ash borer is also affecting multiple counties in the east, reflecting and killing ash trees, according to the Forest Service.

According to the North Carolina Forest Service, the Emerald Ash Borer has now impacted five new counties in ENC, infecting and killing ash trees. It like the ambrosia beetle is moved by firewood and bores into trees.