Dead oaks in Virginia – 08/18/2005

  • October 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm #898

    Experts mystified by dead-oak ‘curiosity’
    Local residents are noticing a lot of oak trees dying suddenly and
    with no obvious cause.,0,4384686.story?coll=dp-


    August 11, 2005, 4:43 PM EDT

    A few weeks ago, Betty Baker was backing out of her driveway in York
    County when something looming over the garage caught her eye.

    It was one of the old oak trees in her back yard, a familiar sight.
    But this time, it looked different. She took off her sunglasses to
    get a better look, and she realized that the leaves had all turned
    brown, seemingly overnight.

    “I saw that and said, ‘Oh my, that tree is dead!’ ” Baker
    recalls. “It’s a gorgeous tree – or, at least, it was. It had been
    fine, and then I looked up one day and it was dead.”

    She started looking around and noticed other dead oaks in neighboring
    yards. Glancing into the wooded area behind her home, she could
    clearly spot dead oaks sitting amid the living ones.

    Puzzled, she arranged to have the dead tree taken out of her back
    yard. The workman was equally puzzled. He suggested that she leave
    the tree up, at least temporarily, so someone could look at it and
    figure out what was happening.

    That’s where Jim Orban comes in. He is a horticulturist with the
    Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Baker’s call was one of many he’s
    received in recent weeks about oaks dying very suddenly. Today, he
    and Rob Farrell – an arborist at the Virginia Department of Forestry
    in Gloucester County – will visit Baker’s yard and other sites in
    York County trying to learn more about what’s killing the oaks.

    “It’s normal to get tree questions, but not as specific as these
    were,” Orban says. “The thread that ran through them was the same:
    Within a space of about two weeks, the trees had gone from solid
    green to brown, without passing through any other stages in between.
    That can happen sometimes with a maple or a sycamore, because those
    are early-season defoliators, but you don’t see it with oaks.”

    When he spoke with the callers, he found no obvious answers. There
    were no holes in the trunks, where the trees could have been shot or
    bored into. The homes had not undergone major construction that could
    have affected the root systems.

    When he visited the area, he noticed several other spots with dead
    oaks, including several on the grounds of Seaford Elementary School.
    That’s when he called Farrell.

    “I asked Rob if he’s been seeing this,” Orban says. “And he told me
    that when he was coming back from vacation, all along (Interstate) 64
    he saw oaks going down.”

    The Virginia Department of Forestry issued a news release earlier
    this week addressing dozens of calls the office had received
    about “hundreds of dead or dying oak trees” in eastern Virginia. In
    the release, forest health specialist Chris Asaro said the most
    plausible explanation was a combination of climatic extremes – a
    drought several summers ago, followed by the heavy rains of Hurricane
    Isabel and Tropical Storm Gaston, and finally this summer’s lengthy
    heat wave.

    “The trees were inundated with water, thereby causing their roots to
    rot slowly over the last couple of years,” Asaro said in the
    release. “With the onset of hot summer weather this June and July,
    trees with rotted root systems were unable to obtain enough water and
    simply wilted under the stress. Combine this with the advanced age of
    most of the trees affected, and you have a formula for tree

    He concluded “nothing could be done” to save the afflicted trees
    because by the time the leaves began to wilt, they were already dead.

    Orban and Farrell want to study the issue further. They want to find
    out if there are other possible causes, such as an undiagnosed
    disease or other external factors. They want to study why such
    climatic conditions would be having this effect on oaks but not on
    other trees.

    “Hopefully when we combine my horticultural background with his
    forestry knowledge, we can come up with some kind of speculation,”
    Orban says. “I’d like it if we could solve some of this curiosity.”

    Baker and other residents are also hopeful that today’s examinations
    can turn up some answers – and some suggestions.

    “I have a great big oak in the middle of my front yard, and I don’t
    want to lose it,” Baker says. “Right now, it looks fine – but the
    other ones looked fine, too. So that’s the biggest thing I want to
    know: Tell me what to do to treat the other ones so I don’t lose

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