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N.C. Forest Service finds laurel wilt disease in New Hanover 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 identified in New Hanover County in an area near the western edge of Wilmington.

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, and in Brunswick County in 2012.

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 the tree by the non-native redbay ambrosia beetle. The female beetle bores into the bark of the tree, carrying the fungus. Once the beetle is inside the tree, she makes tunnels where she will lay 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; 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.

It is believed the pest can travel about 20 miles per year naturally, but can spread more quickly when the fungus-carrying 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 to be used as firewood. 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.

This destructive pest was first discovered in Georgia in 2002. It is believed the fungus associated with the redbay ambrosia beetle arrived in the U.S. along with the pest in wooden crating material from Southeast Asia. The most recent detection of laurel wilt in New Hanover County was reported by N.C. Forest personnel, 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 Jason Moan, forest health monitoring coordinator with the N.C. Forest Service, at 919-553-6178 ext. 223.

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