Q: On your radio show I heard a gentleman mention a new sassafras tree disease. I am a big fan of sassafras and don’t want mine to die.
A: The problem is laurel wilt disease and it is spread by one of the several non-native ambrosia beetles that have arrived from Asia in the last decade. The beetle bores holes in the trunk of a red bay laurel, sassafras or avocado tree and introduces a fungus to feed their young inside the tree. It’s great for baby beetles but fatal for the infested tree. There is limited evidence that spraying the trunk of a specimen tree with the insecticides bifenthrin or permethrin in early spring can protect it from the beetle. This is just one more chapter in the longer story of how modern transportation can introduce non-native plants, insects and diseases to a new environment and thereby cause unexpected devastation.