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Fatal Oak Tree Disease Confirmed in Plants Sold in Kansas

Oak trees outside the Kansas Statehouse. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Plants sold at more than 60 stores in Kansas were infected with a disease that kills oak trees. The Kansas Department of Agriculture said sudden oak death was confirmed in hundreds of rhododendrons in the state, and the agency is asking Kansans to destroy any potentially infected plants.

The infected rhododendrons came from a nursery in Oklahoma and were sold in 10 states, including Kansas and Missouri. In Kansas, the plants were sold during April, May and June at 60 Walmart stores and the Home Depot in Pittsburg.

This is the first time sudden oak death has been found in the state. It’s a disease that has heavily damaged some forests on the west coast, where it was discovered in the mid-1990s.

“It is just devastating when it gets to oaks,” Kansas State University Professor Cheryl Boyer said in an interview. “It will kill the whole mature trees very, very quickly.”

Ryan Armbrust, with the Kansas Forest Service, noted in a statement that many of the state’s oak trees are from varieties that are less susceptible.

“But there are millions of red, black, pin, shumard, blackjack, shingle and other oaks that could be impacted should this disease gain a foothold in the state,” he said.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture said rhododendron varieties that should be destroyed include:  Cat Cunningham Blush, Firestorm, Holden, Nova Zembla, Percy Wiseman, Roseum Elegans, and Wojnars Purple.

The rhododendrons should be dug up, double bagged in garbage bags and thrown in the trash. Any garden tools or shoes that contacted the plants need to be sanitized.

The plants can also be burned, according to the Department of Agriculture.

K-State Professor Megan Kennelly said the disease is less likely to spread in western Kansas, where it’s drier. The greatest risk is posed in eastern Kansas, and the heavy rains this year could increase the danger from the infected rhododendrons.

“Through rain splash or water runoff it could spread to other plants in the landscape,” Kennelly said.

There’s no cure for sudden oak death in infected plants, but the disease has not been shown to harm humans or animals.

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