SOD and the costs to garden centres and
nurseries--is it all for naught?
Though there has been little
publicity about Sudden Oak Death (previously known as Sudden Oak Death
Syndrome) in eastern Canada, it is indeed a major, major news story in
British Columbia. It first came to light in Canada generally in March 2001,
when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) placed interim regulations
prohibiting entry of certain host plants from California and Oregon, as well
as some European countries.
Thought by most (but certainly not all) scientists to be caused by
Phytophthora ramorum the ‘disease’ is not a fungus or a bacterium, but
rather a member of a unique group of organisms called Oomycetes, which share
some characteristics of fungi but are biologically different.
Though there have been various (increasing and expanding) quarantines on
nursery stock coming from California and Oregon (among other locations
internationally), the nursery industry was able to live with them. Then came
the announcement in September last year of much more strict regulations
which led to the prohibition of all nursery stock from certain areas which
meant the largest U.S. (California and Oregon) supplier of a wide range of
nursery stock could not ship anything to Canada. Particularly
affected by this was British Columbia, with its similar-to-Oregon climate
and which depends heavily on shipments from companies such as Monrovia in
The announcement in April this year, from the CFIA, in conjunction with the
B.C. Landscape and Nursery Association (BCLNA) was that there would be,
immediately, a recall of all Camellia plants sold in the province since
September 1 last year. The April 20 news release said, in part: The CFIA and
BCLNA “are appealing to BC resi-dents to assist in a recall of Camellia
plants that were imported from Monrovia Nursery in Azusa, California. The
recall is being conducted to remove any plants that may be infected with the
plant disease Sudden Oak Death (SOD) from the environment. BCLNA
[representatives] will be sent to the homes of people who own potentially
infected Camellias, to remove them in a manner that will prevent spreading
of the disease.
“Anyone who may have a Camellia from Monrovia is asked to: 1) Have ready the
name of the garden centre where they purchased the Camellia and the
approximate purchase date; 2) NOT to touch the plant. Leave it undisturbed
in the garden. Suspect plants should be removed ONLY by qualified staff to
prevent further spread of the disease; and 3) NOT to take the plant or its
leaves to garden centres. (Plants can be tested only at an accredited
“An appreciation package, including a coupon that can be redeemed at a
garden centre will be given to each person that has a Camellia removed.
[Each coupon was for the approximate value of the original plant, and the
affected gardeners also received a copy of GardenWise magazine and an
explanatory letter. The coupons aspect of the programme was entirely
underwritten by the Monrovia company.]
“The CFIA has been sampling plant material at Canadian nurseries and garden
centres that received plants from California after being notified by US
officials in March that CFIA has suspended entry into Canada of all plants
from Monrovia Nursery and any SOD-susceptible plants from California,
pending assurances by California that their exports are free of SOD. The
CFIA is also continuing to survey, sample and test susceptible plant
material previously received from California. It is anticipated that more
premises may be found to be affected.”
So, now we can add SOD to the growing (pardon the pun) list ‘problems’ with
which the CFIA are dealing, and in virtually all cases, dealing with them by
removing, killing or culling thousands of trees, and now ornamental shrubs.
In most recent history, first in 2000, it was the brown spruce longhorn
beetle, the eradication (hopeful) of which lead to the destroying of tens of
thousands of trees in, amongst other places, Point Pleasant Park in Halifax.
Next, in 2002, came the Emerald ash borer, moving from Michigan into Essex
County Ontario, and, beginning last year, the destruction there of tens of
thousands of ash and other trees in a ring around Windsor and environs to
try to confine the insect to one area. Then, in the Toronto/Vaughan area of
Greater Toronto, beginning in September last year, we had the Asian
longhorned beetle. Its control, by quarantining a vast area and removing
thou-sands of vulnerable trees, again supposedly to contain the spread of
the beetle, is ongoing.
Finally, there is the destruction of currently in excess of 5,000 oak trees
in Oakville Ontario, in order to try and “contain” the two-lined chestnut
borer that is attacking stressed oaks (and other trees) there.
Let me return to SOD. One of the concerns is that not only oaks are
affected. The ‘disease’ can be carried on and infect Rhododendron,
Camellia, Viburnum, Madrone (Arbutus), Douglas fir and
many more trees and shrubs. Hence, the removal order for the Camellias. In
British Columbia, where there are literally millions of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga
taxifolia), the B.C. forest people must have seen red immediately and
action was immediate.
I first wrote about SOD on January 6, 2002, and then again on May 9 this
year. Since the May 9th article, there has been some time to assess the
results of the recall of the Camellia plants. Jane Stock, executive director
of the British Columbia Landscape Nursery Association, told me that over
1,400 plants had been ‘turned in’ by gardeners, a number considered
amazingly high by those who chart this type of public response.
The cost to the trade association was close to $100,000. Jane also pointed
out that BCLNA will receive funding from CFIA as a result of an agreement
reached between the two groups prior to the April announcement. She see’s
CFIA refunding about 50 percent of BCLNA’s $100,000 expenditure. This
agreement was reached because the two groups saw the project being more
successful if the trade group was responsible for and managed the appeal to
the public, rather than CFIA--essentially the federal government.
There are several other angles to this SOD story. For ex-ample, it has not
been missed by certain nursery growers that the federal Health of Animals
act has provision for funding compensation to farmers in cases such as mad
cow disease and the bird flu that recently caused tens of thousands of
chickens to be put down in British Columbia. The Plant Protection Act has no
such provisions and it likely should be brought into line with the Health of
There is also the Canadian Plant Protection Advisory Committee (and under
it, individual organizations in the provinces) which is currently attempting
to put forth a plan to fund similar recalls in the future. Certainly the
members of the BCLNA, particularly garden centres, would no doubt hope that
such recalls in the future would be funded by an already established scheme.
And finally there is the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association’s programme
to develop and implement a Canadian Nursery Certification Program (CNCP) for
exporting nurseries. The USDA is apparently considering implementing a
similar program to complement trade with Canada. Only The Netherlands has
such a certification programme for growing nurseries in place at this time.
After reviewing a ton of printed
material on SOD, it is quite apparent that not all scientists agree on what
causes the ‘disease’ (whether it is Phytophthora ramorum alone, with
other factors, or at all). For example, disputing the idea that P.
ramorum is the primary cause of SOD, some scientists are dubious. “Even
if you take the strictest definition of SOD--the Phytophthora
pathogen--there are still problems, the most serious one being that the
mosses were not controlled (or accounted for) in their test,” says Dr. Lee
Klinger, who holds degrees (MAs and Ph.Ds) from the University of Colorado.
He has been independently studying worldwide tree decline since the mid-80s.
Lee Klinger built his career on studying mosses and first published about
their effect on tree roots in 1991. He maintains that mosses might be
killing the oaks.
Additionally, Lee Klinger believes that only trees with SOD are being
studied. “If the tree doesn’t have SOD, they’re not studying them.” And, he
says, “Most of the trees that are dying have no sign of Phytophthora.”
“In 1985, when he was researching tree death and forest decline on Kruzof
Island off the coast of Alaska,” Lee Klinger “noticed that dying trees and
the ground around them were covered with moss.”, says Tara Treasurefield in
the Sonoma Valley Voice. “His 20 years of research data support his
contention that moss runoff, which is highly acidic, increases the acid
content of the soil and contributes to yellow cedar decline in Alaska,
sudden oak death in California and Europe, and similar epidemics of dying
trees and forests. The simple, non-toxic, and universal solution to tree
death and forest decline, says Dr. Klinger, is to reduce soil acidity.
“There are many ways to reduce soil acidity. Scientists at Hubbard Brook
Research Foundation in New Hampshire, and at Cornell University in New York,
are doing it by treating declining forests with calcium and other minerals.
In the 1980s, German scientists reversed the decline of the Black Forest by
using lime to reduce the acidic content of the soil. And long ago, Native
Americans revitalized dying forests with fire, which also decreases the
acidic con-tent of the soil.
As reported by Annette Stark in the April 15 LA CityBeat, “Marin
County [adjacent to San Francisco] botanist Ralph Zingaro has been treating
trees, and reportedly curing them, by adjusting acidic soils with
phosphates. He says the fungus is only opportunistic, and environmental
causes are dominant.”
[As an aside, botanist Zingaro was served with a civil consumer protection
lawsuit over his promotion and use of a fertilizer to combat SOD. He has
been the subject of an ongoing inquiry by agriculture and district attorney
officials who said arborists complained he had been touting the curative
effects of a phosphite fertilizer product (formulated from neutralized
phosphoric acid) before state regulators had approved a treatment for the
Annette Stark in LA CityBeat also went further, quoting Don Dillon Jr.,
board chairman of the California Association of Nursery and Garden Centers,
as “…urging scientists to recognize that California’s $3 billion wholesale
nursery industry and 169,000 jobs are at stake. ‘Comments made by
researchers--like when they found it on a wild rose in Sonoma [County],
leading to the inference that all roses are at risk of spreading this
disease--are ridiculous,’ he says. ‘It’s like saying all human beings have
the potential of getting SARS; therefore all human beings should stop
“The Sonoma rose findings involved a wood rose that was artificially
inoculated with the fungus in a Berkeley lab. The announcement fuelled the
controversy about what ex-actly causes SOD and how it can be controlled and
These comments on the rose bush aspect are particularly interesting as rose
growers here in Canada (both amateur and professional) are now prohibited
from importing any rose materials from Europe. Robin Dening, owner of
Brentwood Bay Nurseries in Victoria, after making a strong appeal to be able
to import a few dozen bushes from Kordes in Germany this spring, had to ship
them all back on receipt as the new regulations re SOD were declared!
Still another aspect of SOD, is a controversy about whether or not the
entire SOD programme is designed as a make work and “get grant money”
boondoggle for academia, scientists and government (USDA) bureaucrats. Take
for example, the statements of Bill Stringfellow, North American vice
president for Agrichem, manufacturers of Agri-Fos a fungicide first reported
by the University of California Berkeley as a ‘cure’, and later reduced in
stat-ure to a ‘preventative’ for trees, which the pathogen has not yet
reached. “The SOD effort is a great big pork barrel project for the SOD task
force and the USDA, which is getting huge government funds to cut down
trees,” Bill Stringfellow argues. “So, this is job security, a retirement
fund that’s worth millions of dollars.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed in Canada about the CFIA’s “fixes”
for the earlier-named tree problems. Are all or some of these actions
gigantic over-reactions? I guess it remains to be seen, but I’m putting my
money on the conclusions of the likes of Lee Klinger and Ralph Zingaro!