Rhododendrons infested with Sudden Oak Death sold at Indiana stores

Rhododendrons with Sudden Oak Death sold in Indiana

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WAVE) - A pathogen found in plants sold in Indiana are putting the state’s oak trees at risks.

Sudden Oak Death has never hit oak trees in the Hoosier state, but soon could after at least 1,500 infested rhododendron plants were sold at Walmart and Rural King stores around the state.

Rhododendrons infected with Sudden Oak Death can kill oak trees within six feet. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Rhododendrons infected with Sudden Oak Death can kill oak trees within six feet. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

This time of the year, Grant Line Garden Center & Nursery stays busy. Rhododendrons are always popular.

Manager Christie Teepe said the news that infested plants carrying Sudden Oak Death are now in the state makes her uneasy.

“It’s absolutely a concern,” Teepe said. “Just the sheer fact that it spreads so quickly and that there’s no cure. You can treat the symptoms, but ultimately, a tree that’s infected is going to eventually die. And when you have several stands of oak trees in our natural forests and state parks, that’s a huge concern for us.”

The infested rhododendron plants were shipped from Washington to a nursery from Oklahoma, where they were then sent to Indiana stores. So far, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said officials have destroyed around 1,500 of the plants, pulling another 1,500 from stores.

Infested rhododendrons were sold at 18 Rural King stores and more than 70 Walmart locations around the state of Indiana, including those in southern Indiana. The stores have been ordered by the DNR to stop selling rhododendrons for now.

Teepe said this is exactly why they use a supplier that takes extra steps to avoid infestation.

“Our main vendor, Monrovia, they have multiple inspections every month, at least two a month, and even have a separate growing area for known hosts of Sudden Oak Death,” she said.

This is what an infested rhododendron looks like. (Source: INDNR)
This is what an infested rhododendron looks like. (Source: INDNR)

If you bought one of those infested rhododendrons, you should notice. Symptoms will appear on the plants that serve as carriers.

“It should be showing symptoms and the symptoms would be brown leaf spots and just a complete shoot die-back,” Teepe said. “So like, one shoot would completely be dead.”

The DNR said Sudden Oak Death is a fungal pathogen, so it spreads through the wind, rain and soil. Infested rhododendron, if planted within six feet of an oak, can kill.

Much of Indiana’s forests are oak trees that are often very old.

“When you lose a tree of that age, there’s no replacement,” Teepe said. “You’re talking decades to replace something like that and your whole ecosystem is changed.”

The Indiana DNR says if you purchased rhododendrons recently from an Indiana Walmart or Rural King -- destroy them or call 1-866-NO-EXOTIC (663-9684) or the local county extension office at 1-888-EXT-INFO (1-888-398-4636) for instructions.

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