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RE: [Aroid-l] Headline

  • Subject: RE: [Aroid-l] Headline
  • From: "MJ Hatfield" mjhatfield@oneota.org
  • Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 18:01:50 -0600
  • Importance: Normal


Here is an update on what the government is doing concerning plants and Sudden Oak Death.


December 23, 2004



JUST in time to complicate spring planting, the federal government is preparing to issue what agriculture officials call the most sweeping restrictions on the shipment of nursery plants ever undertaken in the United States, to try to prevent the spread of a virulent disease that has killed tens of thousands of oaks and other species along the West Coast.


The restrictions, expected to be issued in early January,

will affect millions of plants grown in California, Oregon

and Washington, about one-third of the country's nursery

plant supply. They will require inspection, sampling and possibly testing of all plants that could be hosts to the pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, the cause of sudden oak death syndrome, before shipment across state lines. The disease has been spotted in 22 states.


The list of likely host plants has grown to include 64

species, among them popular ornamental plants like

camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Agriculture officials caution that the list could grow as the range of host plants becomes better known.


The disease, caused by a poorly understood organism,

ravages oaks and tanoaks. In other species, including bay laurel and andromeda, it causes leaf spots and dying twigs. Discoveries of the disease in the nursery trade have been isolated and few, but the potential impact of its spread leaves regulators little room for error.


"This is as big a plant regulatory emergency as I've ever experienced," said Dan Hilburn, the administrator of the plant division of the Oregon agriculture department. Nursery plants are Oregon's No. 1 agricultural product, and about 76 percent of them, about $589 million worth, are sold out of state. Mr. Hilburn compared the government's concern to that following the arrival of the gypsy moth and Japanese beetle in North America, problems that appeared in the early 1900's and lingered for most of the century.


"It's a megapest, as big as they get," Mr. Hilburn said.



Industry experts said that customers of retail garden

centers could face shortages of some common garden plants

for the spring planting season, especially if symptoms of

the disease are found during the nursery inspections.

Growers would have to stop major shipments if inspectors

find signs of P. ramorum infection on their properties.

Testing for the disease can take weeks to months for a confident result.


John Aguirre, the executive director of the Oregon

Association of Nurseries, said that more than 50 percent of Oregon's nurseries would have to be inspected under the order. California ships about 20 percent of its nursery plants out of state. "If you lose the ability to get plant material from California and Oregon, it's going to be felt without question by the consumer," Mr. Aguirre said.


Nurseries in general have not yet raised prices on plants because of P. ramorum problems, but nursery owners cannot rule out price rises if supplies for particular plants become scarce. "With the most susceptible plants there could be a shortage, with rhododendrons and camellias especially," said Dave Fujino, the vice president of Hines Horticulture, one of the country's largest wholesale nurseries, in Winters, Calif. "I'm not hearing anything about an escalation of prices, but I'm not hearing there's a shortage" of particular plants, he said.


In September, inspectors found P. ramorum symptoms on rhododendrons at a Hines nursery in Forest Grove, Ore., which prompted regulators to track down 10,000 rhododendrons that had been shipped to about 50 locations in Connecticut.


Agriculture officials say they hope the new rules will

prevent the sort of widespread disruptions of plant

shipments that began last spring when the disease was found

on camellias in a large California nursery, though the officials cannot guarantee against future disruptions.


Retail garden centers typically place orders for spring a

year in advance. Consumers were largely unaware of last spring's disruptions because most of the potentially infected plants found were confiscated and destroyed before they were sold. With thousands of plants held up in California, retailers scrambled to substitute plants grown elsewhere.


Bob Jacobson, a senior director of Home Depot in Atlanta,

said his company faced some plant shortages last spring, especially in the Atlanta area, but was able to use other suppliers. "In all honesty, it was a pain in the neck," Mr. Jacobson said.


Owners of smaller garden centers are watching the situation warily. James Harwell, the president of Harwell's Green Thumb in Montgomery, Ala., said he feared the impact of a quarantine. "In springtime they could shut down a whole nursery."


At first the federal government took steps to prevent the spread of the disease from affected plants in California, where it has devastated entire forests. But four states imposed wider bans unless the nurseries could certify that their plants were disease-free. Thomas Johnson, the plant pest administrator in Alabama, said he had imposed a ban broader than the federal government's to protect Alabama's diverse plant life and its nursery industry, the state's second biggest agricultural commodity, after poultry.


"We have a lot of plants in the East that they don't have

in the West," Mr. Johnson said.


Nursery owners and agriculture officials said they hoped

the new rules would reduce the confusion caused by state

bans against plants from California nurseries, some of

which exceeded the federal inspection order. Little is

known about the pathogen's behavior outside the mild foggy forests of the West. As a precaution, however, plants thought to be infected are handled as if they were hazardous waste.


California nursery growers estimate that the bans will

result in sales losses of at least $50 million this year. Claude R. Knighten, a spokesman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in the federal Agriculture Department, called the new restrictions "one of the most comprehensive and challenging plant health programs undertaken by our agency in recent years." He said the rules, to be issued under the Plant Protection Act, were awaiting a final legal review by the department.


Most upsetting to regulators and scientists is how little

they understand P. ramorum. It is one of about 100 species

of Phytophthora, Greek for "plant destroyer" and commonly

known as root rot or crown rot. The first symptoms were

found withering a tanoak in Mill Valley, Calif., in 1995.


In 2000 P. ramorum was isolated and identified by Dr. David Rizzo, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Matteo Garbelotto at the University of California, Berkeley.


"We're just getting started," Dr. Rizzo said. "This is an organism nobody knew existed four years ago."


One point of consensus among experts is that the epithet "sudden oak death" is misleading. The disease can linger for months and does not always cause death. It is not known to affect all oak species.


Until last winter Dennis Connor had little reason to think

that the disease would turn up in his nursery, Monrovia Growers, in Azusa, Calif., one of the country's largest purveyors of garden plants.


The disease thrives mainly in wetter northern parts of the state, where it has caused thousands of trees to bleed an ugly dark sap and die seemingly within weeks. The nursery sits nearly in the desert outside Los Angeles. Sudden oak death "didn't seem to exist in dry areas," said Mr. Connor, the general manager of Monrovia Growers.


But on March 8, California state agriculture inspectors

found P. ramorum on six kinds of Monrovia's camellia

plants. The company had just shipped 158,000 camellias to

900 retail garden centers in the United States and Canada.

The plants had to be tracked down to stop their sale and planting. Monrovia had to destroy 1.3 million camellia plants, which took about four months, because hazardous-waste handlers could take only so many at a time.



"We basically ended up dumping our camellia crop," Mr.

Connor said.


He estimated that the company had lost at least $9 million

in destroyed plants, sales lost in states that banned

shipments and reimbursements for infected shipments.


Since April the Agriculture Department's inspection service

has spent $15.5 million to test nurseries for signs of the disease. For 2005 the inspection service has requested about $3 million to continue its control efforts.


Dr. Rizzo of the University of California said he marveled

at the sheer breadth of the new rules. "This is the widest

host range ever to be quarantined," Dr. Rizzo said. "We're

up to over 60 different species. Given the fact that this involves so many hosts, can we really stop this?"




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