Here is an update on what the government is doing concerning
plants and Sudden Oak Death.
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.
restrictions, expected to be issued in early January,
affect millions of plants grown in California, Oregon
Washington, about one-third of the country's nursery
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.
list of likely host plants has grown to include 64
among them popular ornamental plants like
rhododendrons and azaleas. Agriculture officials caution that the list could
grow as the range of host plants becomes better known.
disease, caused by a poorly understood organism,
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.
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.
a megapest, as big as they get," Mr. Hilburn said.
experts said that customers of retail garden
could face shortages of some common garden plants
the spring planting season, especially if symptoms of
disease are found during the nursery inspections.
would have to stop major shipments if inspectors
signs of P. ramorum infection on their properties.
for the disease can take weeks to months for a confident result.
Aguirre, the executive director of the Oregon
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.
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.
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.
officials say they hope the new rules will
the sort of widespread disruptions of plant
that began last spring when the disease was found
camellias in a large California nursery, though the
officials cannot guarantee against future disruptions.
garden centers typically place orders for spring a
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.
Jacobson, a senior director of Home Depot in Atlanta,
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.
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
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.
have a lot of plants in the East that they don't have
the West," Mr. Johnson said.
owners and agriculture officials said they hoped
new rules would reduce the confusion caused by state
against plants from California nurseries, some of
exceeded the federal inspection order. Little is
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
California nursery growers
estimate that the bans will
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.
upsetting to regulators and scientists is how little
understand P. ramorum. It is one of about 100 species
Phytophthora, Greek for "plant destroyer" and commonly
as root rot or crown rot. The first symptoms were
withering a tanoak in Mill Valley, Calif., in 1995.
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.
just getting started," Dr. Rizzo said. "This is an organism nobody
knew existed four years ago."
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.
last winter Dennis Connor had little reason to think
the disease would turn up in his nursery, Monrovia Growers, in Azusa, Calif., one of the
country's largest purveyors of garden plants.
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.
on March 8, California state agriculture inspectors
P. ramorum on six kinds of Monrovia's camellia
The company had just shipped 158,000 camellias to
retail garden centers in the United States and Canada.
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.
basically ended up dumping our camellia crop," Mr.
estimated that the company had lost at least $9 million
destroyed plants, sales lost in states that banned
and reimbursements for infected shipments.
April the Agriculture Department's inspection service
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
Rizzo of the University of California said he marveled
the sheer breadth of the new rules. "This is the widest
range ever to be quarantined," Dr. Rizzo said. "We're
to over 60 different species. Given the fact that this involves so many hosts,
can we really stop this?"