Sassafras albidum (Sassafras) is an ecologically important tree species that is widely distributed throughout the eastern United States. Sassafras is presently threatened by Raffaelea lauricola, a fungus vectored by Xyleborus glabratus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae; Redbay Ambrosia Beetle), which causes a lethal vascular wilt known as laurel wilt disease (LWD). This study summarizes the status of Sassafras across the entire eastern United States and in areas with LWD in particular, so that LWD-induced changes in the Sassafras resource may be properly understood. Inventory data collected by the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program of the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service indicated that as of 2013–2014 there were 1.9 billion live Sassafras trees and saplings across 28 states, 53 ecoregion sections, and 69 forest types in the eastern United States. Only 1.7% of Sassafras trees ≥2.5 cm diameter at breast height occurred in counties with LWD; an additional 2.8% occurred in neighboring counties. To date, LWD has not reached the heart of the Sassafras range, yet discontinuous jumps of the disease beyond its advancing front suggest that future introductions may be possible. Landowners and forest managers within the range of Sassafras should be diligent to watch for LWD symptoms and consider the changes that may occur in their forests if the disease becomes established.
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Vol. 16 • No. 1