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Everglades Trees Being Wiped Out by Blight August 1, 2014
Satellite Image
A Florida red bay tree killed by the laurel wild fungus.
A fungus spread by an invasive beetle that hitchhiked to America in cargo from Southeast Asia is killing trees across the Everglades.

Since laurel wilt was first detected along Miami’s western boundary with the wetlands in 2011, the blight has killed swamp bay trees in more than 300,000 acres of the Everglades.

Scientists say they don’t know of any way to prevent it from spreading.

The fungus has also threatened avocado crops and redbay trees elsewhere in Florida and the Southeast since 2002.

The first tiny redbay ambrosia beetle carrying the fungus is believed to have arrived in a shipment of wood packing material from half a world away.

“It’s amazing how much of an impact this one little tiny beetle that’s no bigger than Lincoln's nose on a penny has done,” said University of Florida forest pathologist Jason Smith. “And it continues to spread.”

Smith says he and others are attempting to collect cuttings and sets from bay trees in the Everglades with hopes to growing new trees resistant to the blight.

South Florida’s sunny and wet climate has provided a fertile environment for the laurel wilt, as it has for invasive Burmese pythons and other non-native plant and animal species.

It’s estimated that non-native plants now make up about 16 percent of all plant life in the Everglades.

Photo: Florida Dept. of Agriculture