While not currently known in Missouri, laurel wilt has been found within 100 miles of the state’s southeastern border in western Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Missouri Department of Conservation said the invasive, tree-killing disease poses a serious threat to a common and widespread understory tree—sassafras—as well as its close relatives, spicebush and federally-endangered pondberry.
“Laurel wilt is a lethal vascular wilt disease that rapidly kills entire clumps of sassafras. The disease is spread to new areas when the tiny, wood-boring redbay ambrosia beetle deposits spores of the fungus Raffaelea lauricola in healthy trees,” according to the department in a release Tuesday.
Symptoms of laurel wilt include:
•Leaves rapidly wilt, turn reddish-brown, and drop from the tree in mid to late summer
•Entire clumps of wilted or dead sassafras trees, as the disease spreads through roots
•Dark staining in the sapwood, exposed by removing bark
•Tiny ambrosia beetle exit holes in the bark
•Frass ‘toothpicks’ may protrude from beetle exit holes
The department urges the public to please be on the lookout for laurel wilt during the summer. Send reports of dying sassafras trees to the MDC Forest Health Program: Forest.Health@mdc.mo.gov