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Sassafras-killing fungal disease has spread to East Tennessee

The best way to prevent the further spread of the disease is to avoid moving firewood or untreated timber around the state.
Credit: State of Tennessee
Laurel wilt is a fungal disease caused by an invasive pathogen, Raffaelea lauricola, which can affect a range of plants in the Lauraceae family, including sassafras and spicebush in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is seeking the public's help to stop the spread of a disease killing sassafras trees and spicebush. 

According to the department, laurel wilt disease was first detected in several Middle Tennessee counties but was recently detected in Hamblen County in East Tennessee. 

“These new detections of this invasive disease show a significant geographic jump across the state,” State Forester David Arnold said. “This is yet another unfortunate example of an invasive pest impacting our forests. Landowners should take caution to prevent the spread of this disease if detected on their property.”

RELATED: Sassafras-killing laurel wilt disease detected in Tennessee

Sassafras is found in all regions of the state. The wood is often used for small woodworking projects, interior finish, cooperage, and fence posts. The tree is the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly and is ecologically important, according to the press release.

According to the department, the best way to prevent the further spread of the disease is to avoid moving firewood or untreated timber around the state. 

Infected trees should be chipped. The chips should be burned or covered with a tarp. Stumps should be ground down to the soil level and no debris of the tree should be transported from the site.

Those who suspect their trees might be diseased should contact the state Division of Forestry.