Laurel wilt found in Brunswick County, North Carolina, fungus carried in mouthparts of redbay ambrosia beetle typically kills trees within a month

RALEIGH, North Carolina , February 23, 2012 (press release) – 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 Brunswick County near the communities of Sandy Creek and Northwest.

The disease has been identified across the Southeast in portions of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. In North Carolina it was discovered in Bladen, Columbus, Sampson and Pender counties in 2011.

Laurel wilt is introduced into the tree by the non-native redbay ambrosia beetle. The female beetle bores through the bark of the tree, carrying the fungus on her mouthparts. Once the beetle is inside the tree, she makes tunnels where she will lay eggs. The fungal spores grow in these tunnels, blocking the movement of water from tree roots and causing the tree to wilt and eventually die from lack of water. This fungus is extremely fast-acting, and trees typically will 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 the entry holes. Removal of tree bark reveals black streaking in the outer wood. It is believed the pest can travel about 20 miles a year naturally, but can spread more quickly when fungus-carrying beetles are moved 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 transported off site 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 Just look for “Burn Permits” under the quick links section.

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

This destructive pest was first discovered in Georgia in 2002. It is believed the fungus and the redbay ambrosia beetle arrived in the United States in wooden crating material from Southeast Asia.

To learn more about laurel wilt, visit or call Jason Moan, forest health monitoring coordinator with the N.C. Forest Service, at 919-553-6178, ext. 223.

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