Killer Fungus Threatens Georgia Oak Trees

SEPTEMBER 16, 2004--Sudden Oak Death (SOD) disease, caused by a fungus introduced into California in the early 1990s, now poses a statewide threat to Georgia’s oak trees due to infected plants imported to nurseries.

James Johnson, Forest Health Coordinator for the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), said the fungus (Phytophthora ramorum) has existed in Europe for many years, but was only identified in the U.S. when SOD began killing oaks in California about five years ago.

The fungus affects many of the most popular plants sold in nurseries including camellia, rhododendron, azalea, pieris, viburnum and lilac. Johnson said the fungus is not usually fatal to these plants, but infected spores are spread to kill members of the oak family.

“The good news is that there is still time to prevent the fungus from escaping into Georgia’s oak population -- but immediate action is needed,” Johnson said. “Shipments from a Monrovia nursery in California are now known to be the source of infected plants in Georgia nurseries that were unaware of the problem until federal and state quarantines stopped sales.”

Monrovia plants can be recognized by a green plastic pot with the name “Monrovia” on the container and attached tag. GFC officials urge anyone who purchased Monrovia plants from the following Georgia nurseries before July 2004 to take a sample (limb with leaves showing leaf spots) in a sealed Ziploc bag to the nearest University of Georgia Extension office for testing and possible scheduling to remove the plant (all free of charge).

GFC officials emphasize that only the described sample should be taken for testing – and that the entire plant should not be removed as it could spread the disease.

Georgia nurseries in the following counties tested positive for SOD fungus:

  • Coffers Home & Garden Inc., Clarke County
  • Craven Pottery Inc., Banks County
  • Deep Springs Nurseries, Whitfield County
  • Green Thumb West Nursery & Garden, Columbia County
  • Greenbrier Nursery & Gifts LLC, Columbia County
  • Island Ace Garden Center, Glynn County
  • John Deere Landscapes #173, Fulton County
  • John Deere Landscapes #172, Forsyth County
  • John Deere Landscapes #57, Gwinnett County
  • Pike Nursery # 2, Cobb County
  • Sago Inc. d/b/a Plant Plus, Coffee County
  • Southeastern Wholesale Nursery # 1, Gwinnett County
  • Still Lake Nursery Inc., Gwinnett County
  • Shemin Nurseries, Gwinnett County

These nurseries did not knowingly sell infected plants and were following state and federal guidelines at the time of sale. Each has been recently checked by officials and declared “disease free.”

For more information, contact your Georgia Forestry Commission forester or visit www.gatrees.org.