Q: What happened to the redbay trees along Kingwood Drive?
A: The Texas redbay (Persea borbonia) is a shapely evergreen that matures to about 30 feet, and prefers boggy or creekside situations in East Texas. The fragrant leaves can be used as a substitute bay leaf to flavor soups.
Recently redbay trees have been dying in home gardens and many are visibly dead along the Kingwood Drive wooded areas. They are being attacked by laurel wilt, caused by Raffaelea lauricola, a fungal symbiont of the redbay ambrosia beetle. The beetle and fungus were introduced into the United States near Savannah, Georgia, from Asia around 2000, and since then the disease has been spreading throughout the southern US.
Kate Henderson, who manages the fall Kingwood Garden Club tree sale and is involved with the Trees for Kingwood group, had a number of trees die in her garden. She contacted Mickey Merritt with the Texas A&M Forest Service to inspect her trees to determine the cause of death. These 2021 tree deaths are the first reported cases of laurel wilt in Harris County. It is a terminal disease for redbay trees. Beetles bore into the tree trunk and release the fungal virus which kills trees rapidly. When the beetles bore into trees, they often leave little spikes of sawdust that look like a small toothpick. Then leaves will discolor and die.
Anyone observing dying or dead redbay or sassafras trees (another tree that may be attacked by this pest) should notify the nearest Texas A&M Forest Service office.
Sadly, there is no cure once the trees are infected. Redbay occurs naturally along many of our creeks, and if you have a tree in your yard, please keep it healthy and enjoy this stately plant in your landscape.