C. A. Bates, Georgia Forestry Commission, Statesboro, GA 30461;
S. W. Fraedrich, U.S. Forest Service, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Athens, GA 30602;
T. C. Harrington, Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Iowa State University, Ames 50011;
R. S. Cameron, Georgia Forestry Commission, Statesboro, GA 30461;
R. D. Menard, U.S. Forest Service, Forest Health Protection, Pineville, LA 71360; and
G. S. Best, U.S. Forest Service, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Athens, GA 30602
Laurel wilt, caused by Raffaelea lauricola, a fungal symbiont of the redbay ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus, is responsible for extensive mortality of native redbays (Persea borbonia and P. palustris) in the coastal plains of the southeastern United States (1). The wilt also affects the more widespread sassafras, Sassafras albidum, particularly in areas where diseased redbays are common and populations of X. glabratus are high. Because sassafras stems were thought to lack chemicals that are attractive to the beetle, and sassafras tends to be widely scattered in forests, it was believed that the advance of the laurel wilt epidemic front might slow once it reached the edge of the natural range of redbay, which is restricted to the coastal plains of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts (2). In July and August of 2011, wilt-like symptoms (i.e., wilted and dead leaves, and streaks of black discoloration in the xylem) were observed on 1 to 10 sassafras trees (15 to 23 cm diameter; 6 to 9 m height) at each of three locations, which were approximately 6 km from one another in Marengo Co., Alabama. Samples of the discolored wood from five trees were plated on malt agar amended with cycloheximide and streptomycin (CSMA), and a fungus morphologically identical to R. lauricola was isolated from each tree (1). For confirmation, a portion of the large subunit (28S) of the rDNA region of three of the isolates was sequenced (3); in each case, the sequence matched exactly that of other isolates of R. lauricola (EU123077) from the United States. Symptomatic trees were found at all three sites when revisited in April 2012, and approximately 20 sassafras trees in various stages of wilt were observed at one location, where only one diseased tree had been noted in 2011. Bolts were cut from the main stem of a symptomatic tree, and eggs, larvae, and adults of X. glabratus were commonly found in tunnels, and R. lauricola was isolated from the discolored xylem. Three container-grown sassafras saplings (mean height 193 cm, mean diameter 2.1 cm at groundline) were inoculated as previously described (1) with conidia (~600,000) from an isolate of R. lauricola. Three additional sassafras saplings were inoculated with sterile, deionized water, and all plants were placed in a growth chamber at 25°C with a 15-h photoperiod. Inoculated plants began to exhibit wilt symptoms within 14 days, and at 30 days all inoculated plants were dead and xylem discoloration was observed. Control plants appeared healthy and did not exhibit xylem discoloration. Pieces of sapwood from 15 cm above the inoculation points were plated on CSMA, and R. lauricola was recovered from all wilted plants but not from control plants. This is the first record of laurel wilt in Alabama and is significant because the disease appears to be spreading on sassafras in an area where redbays have not been recorded (see http://www.floraofalabama.org). The nearest previously documented case of laurel wilt is on redbay and sassafras in Jackson Co., Mississippi (4), approximately 160 km to the south. The exact source of the introduction of X. glabratus and R. lauricola into Marengo Co. is not known. The vector may have been transported into the area with storms, moved with infested firewood, or shipped with infested timber by companies that supply mills in the area.
References: (1) S. Fraedrich et al. Plant Dis. 92:215, 2008. (2) J. Hanula et al. Econ. Ent. 101:1276, 2008. (3) T. Harrington et al. Mycotaxon 111:337, 2010. (4) J. Riggins et al. Plant Dis. 95:1479, 2011.