What is oak wilt and how does it affect trees?
Oak wilt is a major tree disease caused by the fungus, Ceratocystis fagacearum. This fungus plugs the water conducting vessels of certain oaks and greatly reduces the flow of water up the stem of the tree. Eventually, as more of the vessels become clogged, the tree will begin to wilt and most often die.
Infected live oaks usually die in three months to one year. Approximately 10 percent of the live oak population may survive for many years in various states of decline and never fully recover. Red oaks typically die very quickly, within two weeks to several months.
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How does oak wilt spread?
Oak wilt spreads in two ways:
1.Underground -- It is very common for oak trees to establish a system of interconnected roots. These connected roots allow the oak wilt fungus to move from tree-to-tree, often leading to patches of infected and dead trees. In fact, once one oak becomes infected, the disease can radiate outward, spreading to any oaks that share a common root system. This pattern of disease movement can be compared to the ripples of water that appear after dropping a rock in a pond. On average, oak wilt will move at a rate of 75 to 100 feet per year. In urban areas with numerous live oaks, the disease can move from one house lot to another each year.
2. Above ground -- The disease can be spread by ( Nitidulid ) beetles carrying fungal spores from diseased red oak trees to fresh wounds on healthy oaks. These beetles are responsible for the long distance spread of oak wilt and are the cause of new oak wilt centers. When a red oak becomes infected with oak wilt, it can form a fungal mat under the bark. This fungal mat is the reproductive structure of the disease and produces millions of spores. When beetles feed on this sweet smelling mat, the spores stick to their bodies. The beetles also feed on the sap oozing from fresh wounds on healthy oaks During feeding, the beetles can deposit fungal spores onto a wound on a healthy tree and form a new infection center. Long distance spread can also occur when beetles are attracted to green, infected red oak firewood. If a beetle flies from a firewood fungal mat to a fresh wound on a healthy tree, infection can occur.
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