Oak Wilt

Bretiziella Fagacearum

Bretiziella Fagacearum is a type of fungus found in oak trees that is responsible for Oak wilt and the eventual death of the oak. The fungus is similar to yeast and this is carried along the vascular system in the tree sap. It excretes digestive substances, which once in the vascular system are fatal to the oaks. Red oaks, once infected, are guaranteed to die. White oaks have cells in the wall of the sap-vessels that react to it by producing gum-filled enlargements (tylosis-a white rubbery substance), which then clog the vessels. This possibly may be an effort of defense by the tree to control the spread of fungi, but in doing so it suffocates/ starves itself. (A defeatist attitude, kill yourself, kill the disease and the effect is like a serious cholesterol problem in humans). The flow of nutrients and water is stopped and soon the outwards signs of the disease can be seen: yellowing leaves, tips of the leaves turn brown, and venial necrosis (the main venial rib turns brown, the area between the veins remains green or yellow) within a few weeks a dying branch or the entire tree. There are different forms of the fungus, which may exist side by side. One is non-aggressive, whereas the other causes the death of the tree in a short time. 

How it is spread

The diseases primary transfer of infection is through the root system at a rate of 50 to 100 feet per year.  All oaks can spread the disease via intergrafted root systems, usually between their own species. The secondary transfer is by the sap sucking bark-beetle (Nitidulidae species). The beetle carries the fungal spores from a spore matt developed only on red oaks that have succumbed from Oak wilt. During warm spells in the early spring the young beetles emerge from fungal mats and are able to fly several miles to find an oak tree and feed on the sap. If successful it gives off a scent to alert its little friends to the find. Incisions are made in the branches to reach the sap and this is the beginning of the end for the tree because the beetles infect the sap with the fungal spores. 

I​ngestation takes about four to six months and there are no noticeable effects of the disease until you see the start of the foliar effects. The pathogen has to have a healthy living host to survive. It cannot live in the soil or dead wood tissue.
Also during pruning, fresh cut wounds through molecular evaporation emit an oak sap odor, which is like a loud dinner bell to the beetle. The larger the wound, the greater the molecular evaporation.
Prune your oaks  ONLY during the hottest or coldest times of year, usually June thru February and spray the cut with paint IMMEDIATELY. It is also recommended that you sterelize your cutting equipment between trees. Although there is no scientific evidence of transfer, we encourage good pruning practices at all times.


What can be done

All oaks are at risk of contracting Oak wilt, with white oaks such as Bur and Monterey being less susceptible. It is important to monitor the health of your oak for broken limbs, leaf abnormalities, pest infestation, etc and contact a certified arborist for a consultation. Preventative and theraputic treatments are available, as well as Do-it-Yourself kits. There is no known cure for Oak wilt, but that doesn't mean they can not be protected from getting it. It is a small investment when you consider the other alternatives.