Scientists fight deadly coastal tree disease

By Peter Kent

A foreign beetle and an unknown fungus are attacking coastal trees that provide food for birds, bears, and butterflies. Foresters are reporting a rising death toll of native red bay trees (Persea borbonia) along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The disease is spreading rapidly, according to scientists.

Clemson researchers and personnel at the S.C. Forestry Commission are collaborating with their colleagues in other states to try to solve this deadly problem.

“Currently, there is no cure or known control for the disease,” said Steve Jeffers, Clemson plant pathologist. “Federal and state agencies are working together to monitor and slow the outbreak while we look for ways to deal with it.”

Red bays are common from Virginia to Florida. Seeds from this native tree provide food for turkeys, quail, deer, songbirds, and bears. The plants also support three types of butterflies: palamedes, Schaus, and spicebush swallowtails. The palamedes butterfly is linked to the red bay because its eggs are laid on the leaves, and the emerging caterpillar eats the leaves.

For information: Steve Jeffers, 864-656-7157,