Signs All Over Wakulla, Including Pines
By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
There are signs everywhere in Wakulla County. Some provide information, others offer products for sale, and many encourage the reader to vote for a particular candidate.
Each in its own way provides some sort of information. It is up to the viewer to determine if the message is worth anything or just a waste of time.
Each sign presumes the onlooker is able to understand the message intended to be conveyed, and hopefully acted upon. A near countless number of books and scholarly volumes have been written about missed messages or communications misunderstood by the intended target of signs which has led to all sorts of problems.
Nature too posts signs of problems to come. All too often these are overlooked by an increasingly urbanized population which could counteract the complication in the foreseeable future.
The native population of pine trees offer many excellent warning signs which should be heeded. One of those windows to the future is a bulbous gall easily observed but usually passed by.
Fusiform rust is caused by the fungus Cronartium quercuum f.sp. fusiforme. It has been identified as the most serious disease affecting pines in the southeastern U.S. and killing many young trees.
It is usually found in loblolly and slash pine species, both of which are commonly found in the wild and planted stands. Occasionally this disease is observed in longleaf pines as well.
The infections typically result in swollen galls on the branches and stems. These growths vary in appearance, but are usually the shape of a spindle or cylinder.
Sometimes the branches and stems are killed past the gall and breakage is common. Another symptom of this condition is pitch exudation.
Pine sap leaks or weeps from the gall giving it the moist appearance of a septic wound. Opportunistic insects and the fungus cause this condition.
Curiously, the disease is not spread from pine to pine. The spores of this fungus are spread on the wind to the tender young leaves of oaks, with the red and black oaks being particularly susceptible.
Water oaks and laurel oaks are two of the host species which are quite common in Wakulla County. It should be noted these are the same oak species which also host the multitude of cankerous growths inflicted by the tiny oak gall wasp.
The disease is passed around among oaks through a series of different spore types until warm temperatures and high humidity develops. A tiny spore called a basidiospore or sporidia is produces and scattered on the breezes.
The pine needles and tender, succulent bark are ideal for a new infection. Only a few hours on the pines vulnerable surface are necessary for the fungus to become established.
If the humidity suddenly drops, the pines may be spared infection. The sporidia are extremely delicate and quickly loose there infectious ability if the environment dries out.
If the pine is infected after eight years of age it will suffer few ill effects from the disease, but can aid with the fungus’ dispersal. Even that is a bad sign.