By MITCH LIES
State plant officials and the nursery industry hope to eradicate a plant disease new to Oregon before it gets a foothold.
State officials uncovered boxwood blight in a Washington County nursery in December after tracing back infected plant material that had moved from the nursery to an outlet in Connecticut.
The disease now has been found in eight states and a Canadian province. It has been present in New Zealand and Europe for about a decade.
At the Washington County nursery, officials oversaw an eradication program that included destroying about 20,000 gallon containers and 4,000 to 5,000 liners.
The nursery buried the infected plants and containers in an 80-foot long hole, said Dan Hilburn, director of Oregon Department of Agriculture's plant division.
"They are destroying more than we are requiring them to," Hilburn said.
Oregon officials are using a federal grant to survey 30 boxwood growers to find if it is present elsewhere, Hilburn said.
The state also is offering surveys to producers for a fee.
"People are lining up for that so they can reassure their customers their plants are healthy," he said.
In severe cases, boxwood blight can defoliate boxwoods starting at the bottom of plants. Infected plants also exhibit discolored stem cankers and a white powdery look on leaves and stems when the fungus starts forming spores.
The disease infects only boxwoods, a hedge plant not native to Oregon and not found in the wild, but one grown extensively by Oregon nurseries.
The disease can spread rapidly by rain splash and contaminated trimmers, Hilburn said.
Hilburn said the department is not planning to restrict boxwood movement through a quarantine.
The Oregon State University Extension Service and the Oregon Association of Nurseries are working with the department to eradicate the disease, Hilburn said.
"The idea is to get it out of the nursery trade," he said. "That is our goal here, so people can buy our boxwoods and not have to worry about them being infected."