MARIETTA — Arborists and forestry experts are monitoring sassafras trees after a fungal disease causing damage in south Georgia showed up in three different areas in Cobb.

Three cases of laurel disease in Cobb County have been found to kill trees, said Joe Burgess, manager of the Cobb County Forestry Commission.

Laurel wilt infects trees when an invasive beetle, the redbay ambrosia beetle, burrows holes into the tree and transmits the fungus Raffaelea lauricola. The primary plant susceptible to the disease and primary to Cobb is sassafras, which can be found at Kennesaw Mountain and other forest areas and in some backyards.

Other trees in the laurel family, including red bays, have been heavily affected in other parts of the state but are rarer in Cobb, though some people may have laurels as ornamental plants.

Hallie Harriman of the University of Georgia Extension of Cobb County said other native plants that could be affected in Cobb include pondspice, pondberry, and spicebush.

“Why the fungus, or the insect has gotten this far, we’re not really sure. It’s kind of jumped over a lot of counties to get here,” Burgess told the MDJ.

One sign of damage from the beetles is small “toothpicks” of sawdust tubes jutting out where the beetle dug a hole. But the holes they leave behind are tiny and hard to spot, and if the fungus is present, it’s too late to save the tree, Burgess said. Other signs include drooping, discolored leaves and discoloration in the sapwood, according to the extension office.

Burgess said the only preventative measure is to spray the tree’s trunk with a registered pesticide.

“The thought is, we’re trying to monitor it, see how big an issue it becomes,” he said.

Burgess and Harriman both said that the beetle could have been brought in from firewood someone transported to the area.

On Wednesday, the Cobb UGA Extension Service will host a free virtual lunch and learn on laurel wilt from 1-2 p.m. An expert will share the biology of laurel wilt, how it spreads, signs, impacts and control. The class will serve as a continuing education credit for arborists in the International Society of Arboriculture.

To register, visit tinyurl.com/y3lmfjvy.

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