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Kansas Says Residents Should Destroy Rhododendrons That Could Kill Oak Trees

Stephen Koranda
Kansas News Service
Oak trees at the Kansas State Capitol.

Rhododendron plants sold at more than 60 stores in Kansas are infected with a disease that kills oak trees, so the Kansas Department of Agriculture is asking residents to destroy them.

The disease, called sudden oak death, was confirmed in hundreds of rhododendrons in the state. 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 at 60 Walmart stores and the Home Depot in Pittsburg during April, May and June.

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

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

Ryan Armbrust of the Kansas Forest Service said 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.

Credit Kansas Department of Agriculture
A plant with sudden oak death.

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.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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