Sudden oak death could devastate county industry

Photo courtesy Public Library of Science


A fungal pathogen that has recently killed tracts of oaks on the West Coast has found its way to Indiana. It could be in Dubois County, and that could spell trouble for the wood capital of the world.

Angela Rust, who is the Department of Natural Resource’s Nursery Inspector and Compliance Officer for Southern Indiana, said she has examined and destroyed plants and pots potentially infected with sudden oak death at both the Jasper Walmart and Rural King stores.

“Right now, I am waiting on testing results to come back on those plants,” Rust said. “I have seen plants that are symptomatic, meaning that they are potentially infected, in various counties in Southwest Indiana, including Dubois County.”

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, more than 70 Walmart stores and 18 Rural King stores in the state have received rhododendron plants infected with the affliction.

The pathogen travels in more than a hundred species of host plant material. It causes the browning and wilting of leaves, as well as branch and stem die-back. It spreads through infected leaves as well as the soil those plants are nestled in.

Ken Eck, Purdue Extension-Dubois County educator for agriculture and natural resources, had not heard of a verified case in Dubois County as of Tuesday afternoon. Still, he’s calling on Walmart and Rural King customers who have recently purchased and planted rhododendron, azalea, lilac, viburnum, camellia, and pieris to uproot them and dispose of them carefully — even if they aren’t currently showing signs of disease.

Eck expressed concerns regarding the effect sudden oak death could have on the county’s woodworking businesses if it were to take root. Currently, the pathogen has not been established in oak trees in the Midwest, but Rust said it would be difficult to control if it did.

“If this were to move from some of the plants in the local stores ... if it got out into local landscaping and got into the oak trees we have — and some of the other species, but mainly the oak trees — it could have a very devastating effect on the local woodworking industry,” Eck said. “Because that would be destroying trees that we need for some of the local hardwood stuff we do around here.”

By May 26, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources had destroyed approximately 1,500 infested rhododendron and pulled another 1,500 from stores. The state entity has also ordered those Walmart and Rural King stores to stop selling rhododendron until further notice.

Eck recommends residents who purchased potentially diseased or contaminated plants from either of the local stores to double bag the plants, pots, and related materials for trash pick up to prevent the chance of additional contamination in the county.

“Plant materials and pots can also be burned, but folks should do so immediately to reduce the chances of puncturing the bags and spreading the disease,” Eck said.

Purdue Extension also recommends planting non-susceptible species in locations where the potentially diseased plants may have been planted previously.

Those who purchased plants showing signs of sudden oak death are urged to report problems to the DNR at 1-866-663-9684 before destroying them.

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