Metro-East News

Blight affecting boxwood shrubs detected in Clinton County; state wants nuisance declaration

Boxwood plants in a nursery infected with boxwood blight.
Boxwood plants in a nursery infected with boxwood blight. Michigan State University

Boxwood blight, a fungus that can kill boxwood shrubs, has been detected in Clinton County, the Illinois Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday.

Boxwood blight was detected in Illinois for the first time in late 2016, in the Chicago area.

In its announcement Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture said the blight also was recently detected in Clinton County, at Jerry’s Landscape Nursery outside Breese. The owner suspected the fungus in plants that were received from out of state and then sent a sample to the University of Illinois for testing.

Boxwood blight only affects boxwood, pachysandra, and sarcococca plants, a common shrub used in landscape designs throughout the state, and can be fatal, especially to young plants. Defoliation, stem cankers and leaf spots, which occur as light or dark brown circular lesions surrounded by a yellow ring, are the main symptoms. Stem cankers appear dark brown or black in a linear or diamond shape and are easiest to see on new tissue. Defoliation is usually the final symptom.

“Although boxwood blight might be considered a nuisance, you shouldn’t be worried if you currently have boxwood in your landscaping,” said Warren Goetsch, deputy director at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “The affected plants were sourced from out of state, and at this time we do not believe this is a widespread or established problem in Illinois.”

Although boxwood blight might be considered a nuisance, you shouldn’t be worried if you currently have boxwood in your landscaping. The affected plants were sourced from out of state, and at this time we do not believe this is a widespread or established problem in Illinois.

Warren Goetsch, deputy director at the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Two boxwood samples were submitted to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic in late 2016. The two samples came from Lake and Cook Counties in northeastern Illinois. Both were from recent landscape additions.

The Department of Agriculture plans to hold a public meeting in March to begin the regulatory process of having boxwood blight declared a nuisance in Illinois.

The meeting is 10 a.m. March 28 at the Department of Agriculture Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. At the meeting, the public is invited to offer testimony regarding whether such a declaration is an appropriate response. If declared a nuisance, it will be required that infected plants be eradicated according to department guidelines.

Boxwoods are a common and popular plant in North American landscapes, Illinois included, and make up a significant component of the nursery production and trade industry, according to the Department of Agriculture. The agency therefore believes it is important to detect and manage the blight to prevent further introductions and spread.

State experts say boxwood blight doesn’t appear to have the ability to move quickly or long distance via the air. It is more likely to spread via plant-to-plant contact, contaminated tools, clothing, or equipment, along with movement of infected plants or plant materials.

Suzanne Bissonnette, director of the U of I Plant Clinic, said boxwood blight was formerly federally regulated, but is now regulated at the state level.

“Although it can cause widespread death of hosts in the environment, the spores of the pathogen do not appear to travel extensively, reducing its overall impact. However, in production facilities where equipment can be contaminated and expose hundreds or thousands of plants, the pathogen is a much larger concern,” Bissonette said in a news release.

Although it can cause widespread death of hosts in the environment, the spores of the pathogen do not appear to travel extensively, reducing its overall impact. However, in production facilities where equipment can be contaminated and expose hundreds or thousands of plants, the pathogen is a much larger concern.

Suzanne Bissonnette, director of the U of I Plant Clinic

The boxwood blight pathogen was identified for the first time in the United States in 2011 and has since been found in 20 states. Most are located in the eastern part of the country, though confirmations have been made in Missouri and Ohio.

The Department of Agriculture is working with industry professionals to educate the public about this pathogen, including the proper form of disposal of infected plants.

Joe Khayyat, executive director of the Illinois Green Industry Association, said the organization, which represents growers and nurseries, garden centers and retailers and landscape professionals throughout the state, “has been working with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to establish the best approach for protecting our industry, along with the Illinois landscape, from this disease.”

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