INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Natural Resources warned Hoosiers almost two weeks ago that anyone who purchased plants at two major retail chains across the state that those plants could contain a tree-killing disease.
Hundreds of rhododendrons sold at Rural King and Walmart stores are being pulled from the shelves, which DNR says they are infected with Sudden Oak Death — a fungus that kills oak trees.
DNR says it doesn't take much for Sudden Oak Death to spread. Planting one of those infected rhododendrons only about six feet from an oak tree can kill it.
Rhododendrons plants sold at 70 Walmart locations and 18 Rural king stores across the state of Indiana were found to be infected with the fungal disease. Those stores were ordered to stop selling rhododendrons.
"My staff is currently working through all the Walmarts in the state of Indiana to remove those infected plants off the shelves," Megan Abraham, Director of the Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology with the DNR, said.
DNR has destroyed 1,500 infected plants, and another 1,500 were put on hold.
The fungus can spread quickly from host plants to an oak tree. Sudden Oak Death has killed more than one million trees in California and Oregon, but DNR says the impact would be far more dramatic here.
"Here in the Midwest, we've got such a large percentage of oak in our woods," Abraham said.
Unlike west coast states, oak trees are a primary species in Indiana forests — oak and hickory types make up more than 70 percent of Indiana's foresting land.
And forest product manufacturing is a $3 billion per year industry for the state. That's why DNR is asking anyone that purchased rhododendrons from Rural King or Walmart stores destroy the plants or contact DNR at 1-866-NO-EXOTIC.
Infected plants will show symptoms like browning leaves and overall wilt.