The Danger of Moving Firewood: Florida’s Newest Tree Disease

This redbay tree that has been killed by the terrible
laurel wilt disease. All the leaves turn
brown without warning.
If you have ever gone camping, you probably have moved firewood. It is a pretty natural thing to do.

However, today, Florida is rapidly loosing an important member of its forest tree and shrub diversity: members of the Lauraceae plant family are being killed by a new pathogen. The following trees and shrubs are susceptible to the laurel wilt disease: swampbay (Persea palustris), redbay (Persea borbonia), silkbay (Persea humilis), sassafras (Sassafras albidium), pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) and pondberry (Lindera melissaefolia), the last two are endangered species. Another concern is that avocado is a member of this family and it is also susceptible to the disease.

The disease is called laurel wilt and it is spread by a very small, 2 millimeter, beetle that carries a fungal pathogen. When the redbay ambrosia beetle bores into a tree of the Lauraceae it leaves behind some of the fungus and the fungus causes the death of the tree.

How does this relate to firewood?
The disease is spreading faster than it should because dead trees are being cut down and moved around the state, and into other states. The disease has now reached Alabama and Mississippi.

This is likely not the last we have heard of native forest trees being killed by exotic pests. The following pests have killed tens of millions of trees in the United States over the past few years:
The spicebush swallowtail butterfly depends upon the redbay and other
members of the laurel family for its larval food.
Emerald ash borer
Asian longhorned beetle
Dutch elm disease
Thousand cankers of walnut
Gypsy moth
Sirex woodwasp
It is possible all of these pests will end up in Florida at some point. Each one is only a car/truck trip away.
To dispose of dead trees, chip them with a tree chipper, bury the wood, or burn it.

Please do not move firewood. For more info on the "Don’t Move Firewood" movement, check out http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/
To learn more about laurel wilt go to:

http://www.extension.ufl.edu/hot_topics/environment/laurel_wilt.html
http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/foresthealth/laurelwilt/posters_presentations.shtml

Don Spence
Forest Pathologist, University of Florida
Certified Municipal Arboris
Native Florida Landscapes, LLC

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