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Oak Wilt

a graphic comparing the oak wilt symptoms of white oak and red oak
Symptoms of oak wilt in
A. white oak and
B. red oak.

Oak wilt is a disease that affects oak trees. It is caused by Ceratocystis fagacearum, a fungus that develops in the xylem, the water carrying cells of trees. All oaks are susceptible to the fungus, but the red oak group (with pointed leaf tips) often die much faster than white oaks (rounded leaf tips). Red oaks can take from a few weeks to six months to die and they spread the disease quickly. White oaks can take years to die and have a lower risk of spreading the disease.

Threat to Oaks

The oak wilt fungus blocks the flow of water and nutrients from the roots to the crown, causing the leaves to wilt and fall off, usually killing the tree. Red oaks (scarlet oak, pin oak, black oak, etc.) can die within a few weeks to six months, and the disease spreads quickly from tree to tree. White oaks (bur oak, scrub oak, etc.), often take years to die and the disease usually cannot spread to additional trees.

Origin of Oak Wilt

Oak wilt was first discovered in Wisconsin in 1944, but where it originated is still unknown. It has spread throughout the Midwest and Texas, killing tens of thousands of trees.

New York State Locations

image showing two dead infected oak trees. The trees are in a backyard in Glenville, NY and are holding onto only a few wilted, orange leaves.
Infected oak trees in Glenville, NY prior to treatment in 2008.

Oak wilt has been found in four locations in Glenville, Schenectady County. Oak wilt was first was confirmed in 2008, but resurfaced after treatment in 2013. Two new locations were found in 2017, and one new location was found in 2018. In 2016, oak wilt was discovered in Islip, Riverhead, and Southold in Suffolk County; Brooklyn in Kings County; and Canandaigua in Ontario County. In 2018, oak wilt was also found in South Bristol in Ontario County. View map showing current infection locations (PDF).

View the emergency orders that establish Protective Zones and Quarantine Districts around the infections and prohibit the movement of oak and firewood out of the infected areas:

Protective Zones

A few black spore pads are visible on a piece of firewood which has had the bark removed. The spore pads are about the size of a dime.
Spore pads beneath bark of infected wood.
Moving infected wood can move oak wilt.

An oak wilt protective zone is an area that DEC conducts oak wilt management within after oak wilt is confirmed. Specific management tactics are described within individual site plans, but may include infected tree removals, root grafted tree removals, root graft disruptions, applying herbicide to infected stumps, and other tactics. Oak wilt protective zones have been established in the towns of Canandaigua and Glenville, the borough of Brooklyn, and all of Suffolk County. In most cases, an oak wilt protective zone overlaps the oak wilt quarantine district.

Quarantine Districts

An oak wilt quarantine district is a quarantine area put in place around a neighborhood, town or county, after oak wilt is confirmed there. The goal of an oak wilt quarantine district is to prevent the spread of the disease by prohibiting the movement of potentially infected oak wood. Oak wilt quarantine districts have been established in the towns of South Bristol, Canandaigua and Glenville, the borough of Brooklyn, and all of Suffolk County.

Prohibited from leaving the quarantine districts:
  • Oak logs or branches
  • Wood pieces less than 29 inches long, no matter the species
Allowed to leave the quarantine districts:
  • Chipped wood
  • Wood pieces 29 inches long or greater from trees other than oak.

View the oak wilt quarantine district fact sheet (PDF) (Spanish version PDF) for more information.

How Oak Wilt Spreads

There are two main ways oak wilt is spread: 1) above ground by beetles, and 2) below ground through tree roots.

Fungal spore mats form just under the bark of infected red oaks after they have died from the disease. During the warmer months, these spore mats emit a sweet odor that attracts sap-feeding beetles and bark beetles, which can pick up fungal spores as they crawl around. The beetles are also highly attracted to fresh wounds in other trees-often caused by pruning. In this way, they spread the fungus from infected trees to healthy trees sometimes miles away. Infected firewood and other wood materials also pose a threat because they can harbor the fungus and/or beetles that can spread the disease.

Spread underground occurs when roots of nearby red oaks graft to each other (fuse together), creating a connection through which nutrients and the disease can move. In the Midwest, large blocks of red oak forests have died from the disease in a single season due to their vast network of interconnected roots. In contrast, white oaks are much less likely to create root grafts, and spore mats rarely form under their bark, significantly reducing the chance of spread from these trees.

View the Winter Pruning Video: Oak Wilt Prevention (2 minutes) (leaves DEC website) to learn a way to help prevent the spread of oak wilt.

Disease Symptoms

Leaves from an oak wilt infected tree. Brown coloration is noticable from the leaf edges towards the mid-vein of the leaf.
Symptomatic leaves from an oak wilt infected tree.

Symptoms of oak wilt infection are often very noticeable in red oak species, but aren't easily seen in white oaks.

  • Brown coloration develops on leaves starting at the outer edge and progressing inward toward the mid-vein of the leaf.
  • Branch dieback starts at the top of the tree's canopy and progresses downward.
  • Leaves suddenly wilt in the spring and summer and may fall while there is still some green on them.
  • Fungal spore mats may develop under the bark of infected trees.

Management by DEC

  • During the growing season, DEC will take samples from oak trees around infection sites to determine the extent of the disease.
    • These areas will continue to be monitored for at least five years using aerial and ground surveys.
  • Established quarantine districts will prohibit the movement of potentially diseased oak wood including firewood.
  • DEC is attempting to eradicate the disease in South Bristol, Canandaigua, Brooklyn, and Glenville using methods similar to those originally used in Glenville.
    • Oak-free zones will be established where infected and surrounding oak trees will be removed.
    • Where possible, root disruption will be used to break root connections to lower the chance of spread.
    A backhoe is beside a trench that has been dug in a backyard between infected and healthy oak trees. Heavy-duty garden fabric is laying in the trench and will help prevent roots from the infected tree from grafting to the healthy tree once the trench is completed.
    Root graft disruption between infected and non-infected oak
    trees to prevent the spread of oak wilt through root grafts.
  • In Suffolk County, DEC will only attempt to contain the disease due to the number of infection sites and distribution across Long Island. Only infected trees will be removed. Homeowners with infected trees have been contacted by DEC staff to discuss tree removal. To ensure that infected trees do not continue to spread the disease, they will be chipped and incinerated. DEC will continue to monitor around infection centers and revise the management strategy and activities based on sampling results.
  • Read the NYS DEC 2018 Oak Wilt Management Plan (PDF) to learn more about DEC's management of oak wilt.
  • View the NYS Oak Wilt Response 2016 Annual Report (PDF) for information on management completed in 2016.
  • View the NYS Oak Wilt Response 2017 Annual Report (PDF) for information on management completed in 2017.
  • View the NYS Oak Wilt Response 2018 Annual Report (PDF) (6.1 MB) for information on management completed in 2018.
  • See the Quarterly Reports for information on management in 2019:

Future Oak Plantings

Oak should not be planted within 150 feet of known oak wilt infections. DEC recommends planting a variety of tree types. Oaks are an important part of community forests, and they should be planted when site conditions are suitable for them. Learn more about how to plant a tree and choosing the right tree for the right site.

What to Do if You Have Seen Oak Wilt

After reviewing the identification material on this website, if you think you have seen signs of oak wilt:

  1. Take photos of the symptoms, as well as the tree's leaves, bark, and the entire tree.
  2. Email photos and location information to us at foresthealth@dec.ny.gov.

DEC staff will analyze the photos and get in touch with you to determine if it is oak wilt. Photos are very important for identifying this disease. You may also call DEC's Forest Health information line at 1-866-640-0652.

How You Can Help

  • Learn to recognize the symptoms of oak wilt including leaf discoloration, branch dieback, and fungal spore mats and check out this helpful video for homeowners Oak Wilt and the Homeowner (leaves DEC website).
  • Avoid pruning or wounding oak trees in the spring and summer, when spore mats are present and beetles are the most active. If an oak wound occurs during spring or summer, it should be sealed immediately with wound dressing. This will slow wound recovery but also deter beetles from landing on those areas - which will reduce the risk of oak wilt spreading.
  • Use tree care professionals. Read more about how to select an arborist or tree service.
  • If you prune, learn how to do it properly (PDF).
  • Adhere to the NYS firewood regulation which limits firewood movement to no more than 50 miles and obey the rules of the Quarantine Districts, which prevent firewood or oak wood from leaving those areas.

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