We Helped the Biologist count the Red Bay Trees

2/14/07: The Red Bay Project at Hunting Island was completed this week ahead of schedule. We identified, measured and marked 2068 Red Bay trees for removal along the roads and parking lots of the park. Once removed, this will increase the safety of the visitors to Hunting Island.

Thanks for your help,
Tim Bruner, Environmental Director


...Unfortunately, I don't have such good news about the Red Bay trees. As you all know the Red Bay die off situation along the coast is a growing concern and an immediate concern for SC, GA and FL where the attached document was collaborated. I am forwarding this important message (see notes below), and am really grateful that the Friends of Hunting Island are helping us take initiative to be proactive about the potential hazards of these dead and dying trees. Feb 12-16, 2007, we are working to tag all the trees within 30 feet of walkways, parking lots, trails, etc. for eventual removal.

Laurel Weeks, Interpretive Program Manager(past)

Notes on a 3 page summary of the Red BayMortality workshop from January 18-19, 2007.

  • ♦ The results are not promising in that this disease is rapidly spreading and there is currently no means to halt or even slow it down. It appears that this disease will spread to the entire range of red bays which will include more southern states that the three currently impacted.
  • ♦ For south Florida, the avocado industry may be impacted and the disease is already in Indian River County.
  • ♦ Perhaps you can let resource mangers know of this in NC, AL and LA.
  • ♦ Sorry for the bad news. We can tell you that here at Timucuan Preserve it has resulted in lots and lots of dead trees. In addition to the visual impact we are really feeling it in the hazard trees budget! Power companies are also seeing large increases in downed power lines as the dead trees begin to fail and fall.

Also, a response from SCDNR:

  • ♦ This is very bad news indeed. The attachment makes only slight mention of Swamp Bay (Persea palustris), which largely replaces Red Bay 10-15 and more miles inland of the coast. Swamp Bay also occurs in the Coastal Zone in association with hydric soils, and the species is present in the ACE Basin. I can't imagine that the disease is not going to impact Swamp Bay as well. I'll keep an eye out in the ACE, as I have seen Swamp Bay on a number of islands with wetlands. Swamp Bay no doubt occurs on Donnelly and at Bear Island. The impact on Red Bay is already quite dramatic throughout the ACE. Finding out that it attacks Sassafras is in some ways even more disheartening since Sassafras has a much broader distribution throughout which the disease seems likely to spread, from the immediate coast to the mountains in SC.
  • ♦ Persea and Sassafras, as well as other Lauraceace, are the only larval hosts for several of our most abundant, most beautiful and most recognizable swallowtail butterflies. Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio/Pterourus palamedes) uses only Persea as a larval host. The attached document suggests that Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio/Pterourus troilus) uses Red Bay as a larval host, but I think that is highly unlikely. I have collected hundreds of larvae from Red Bay, and all have been Palamedes. The larvae look very similar and can easily be confused by anyone unfamiliar with both species. Spicebush Swallowtail uses Sassafras exclusively through most of its range. These two large insects are among the most characteristic butterflies of the Coastal Zone of much of the Southeast. The attachment also mentions Schaus' Swallowtail (Heraclides aristodemus) as using Red Bay, but I think that is also a mistake. According to all of the literature that I have seen, this insect (endangered and confined in the US to the Florida Keys ) primarily uses Torchwoods (Amyris sps.), a member of the Rutaceae, and does not use any plants in the Lauraceae.
  • ♦ Red Bay, as we all know, is a very important constituent of maritime and other coastal forests. It is frequently a primary component of evergreen shrub thickets in coastal areas, providing both food (fruit and associated insects) and valuable cover for resident and migratory landbirds. The fruit of Sassafras are also relished by many songbirds as well as some gamebirds.
  • ♦ The continued loss of these species will no doubt have tremendous negative impacts on obligate species such as the aforementioned butterflies, but will also cause a reduction in general habitat value as such relates to many other fauna.

Red Bay Trees are Dying

more dead red bays

Last spring (2006), one could no longer ignore the dying trees along the roadway on Hunting Island. The forest, dotted by trees with red-brown clinging leaves, seemed to announce a species' demise to drought. Not so, our Ranger friends explained, it's another problem. Red Bay trees along the coasts of the South Carolina Lowcountry and Georgia Coastal Empire and into Florida are being affected by an invasive foreign beetle species, the Ambrosia Beetle.

First identified on Hilton Head in 2003, the beetles' most likely point of entry from Asia was a container ship through Port Wentworth, GA. The beetle carries a fungus that infects the tree after introduction in an egg bore-hole and eventually cuts off nutrients to the tree. The beetle has no known predators, so their numbers have escalated. So far, they have been found in Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, and Hampton Counties.

As an important component of the Maritime Forest, full size Red Bays will be missed. Birds and small animals eat the fruit, and our local Palamedes swallowtail butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves. The trees provide shade in the lower story and are very drought tolerant.

The Forest Service has issued orders prohibiting transport of dead Red Bay firewood. It is fine to put the branches through a chipper or to burn them where you are.