Tree recovers from deadly fungus

Oak tree recovers from deadly fungus

Augusta State emblem appears OK

The experts have officially agreed: Augusta State University’s symbol – the more than 400-year-old Arsenal Oak – was infected with a potentially deadly disease.

Chelsea Smith of Augusta walks her family dog past Augusta State University’s Arsenal Oak. The tree, more than 400 years old, was infected with hypoxylon canker.

For the moment, though, signs of that disease are no longer showing on the oak. That has school officials hopeful for a recovery and beefing up their rescue efforts.

“We brought in three (arborist) experts, and they have all now concurred. It did indeed have that disease,” said Max Brown, supervisor for the university’s grounds, referring to the tree fungus called hypoxylon canker.

“It may still be there, but we see no evidence of it now,” Mr. Brown said. “We hope that will be the end of it. But it is a tough disease to get rid of.”

Hypoxylon canker is a fungus that causes a white rot and cankering on hardwood trees. It often contributes to the premature death of trees that have been weakened by drought, construction damage or other problems.

Named for the old Augusta Arsenal, the Arsenal Oak is the largest and oldest white oak in Augusta, according to the university’s Web site. It also is the inspiration for Augusta State’s logo.

Officials suspected the oak might have hypoxylon when six silver-dollar-sized spots were found on the tree a few months ago. The tree also didn’t produce acorns this year.

Since then, workers for Empire Tree and Turf in Augusta have cut out chunks of the tree where cankers existed and injected a fungicidal treatment into the tree.

It’s too early to tell if the treatment helped, Mr. Brown said. In the meantime, school officials are trying another approach.

A monument sits next to the Arsenal Oak. Experts say it could be months before they are sure the tree is cured.

Mr. Brown said about 400 gallons of fertilizer and mycorrhizal fungus will be injected into the soil about 40 feet west of the tree. Mycorrhizal fungus is found naturally in oaks and is beneficial to their growth.

“We’re hoping to stimulate the roots to grow,” Mr. Brown said. “We’re also adding water to the tree with a hose.”

Mr. Brown said he will continue to monitor the tree daily, adding that it could be months before a determination could be made that it no longer has the disease.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904