STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – Staff with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service are asking Mississippians to report dying sassafras trees.
Some sassafras trees are showing signs of dieback. They’re suspected of having laurel wilt, a disease caused by a fungus that’s already proven deadly to the state’s rebay trees. The fungus is carried by the redbay ambrosia beetle, an invasive species native to Asia.
Laurel wilt and the redbay ambrosia beetle were first detected in Mississippi in 2009. The beetle and the fungus it carries have caused extensive mortality to redbay trees across Mississippi, as well as in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
In July, the MSU Extension Service Plant Diagnostic Laboratory was contacted about sassafras trees dying from what is suspected to be laurel wilt.
John Riggins, a professor of forest entomology at MSU, said the assumption is that once it ran out of redbay or moved north of redbay territory, it would wipe out the sassafras trees.
“I’m sure it is extensive in sassafras in Mississippi by now, but unless people report it, we have no way to confirm and track it,” he said.
Anyone who notices a plant or tree with an apparent problem is encouraged to contact their local county Extension agent or the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry for assistance.