Camellia quarantine impacts local nurseries

By Ed Brock

Ann Phillips thinks her camellia plant is pretty, but a recent quarantine on imports of the flowering plant from a California nursery has made her disinclined to buy any more.

Georgia agricultural officials issued the quarantine last month after finding plants from Monrovia Nursery, a major West Coast supplier of camellias, might be carrying the fungus that causes sudden oak death. Sudden oak death has killed tens of thousands of oaks in California.

"I have a big oak tree in my yard that I don't want bothered," said Phillips who lives in Hampton. "I won't buy any if there's any chance they're infected."

That fear among consumers is dampening the local market at nurseries like Pike Nursery in Stockbridge.

"We're just trying to keep most of the people calm," said Pike employee Ray Bishop. "We tell customers (buying oak trees) if they have any doubts in their mind to just bring them back."

Georgia Department of Agriculture inspectors found two infected camellia plants at the Pike Nursery in Marietta last week and Bishop said they are still awaiting the results of tests on their plants.

"All we were told by the DOA is to keep an eye out," Bishop said.

Walker Nursery in Jonesboro has between 500 and 700 camellia plants that can't be sold while the quarantine is in effect, including 11 from Monrovia, owner Perry Walker said. So far none have shown signs of the disease.

"(Monrovia) is one of the best growers in the world," Walker said. "It's very unusual for them to have problems like this."

On Monday the DOA also announced that infected plants had been found at John Deere Landscapes in Alpharetta and John Deere Landscapes and Still Lake Nursery, both in Lawrenceville.

When Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin imposed the quarantine in March five other nurseries were listed with infected plants. They are John Deere No. 173 in College Park, Greenbrier Nurseries in Evans, Green-Thumb West in Augusta, Cofer's Home and Garden in Athens and Craven Pottery in Commerce.

Anyone who has purchased plants that originated from Monrovia Nursery should monitor their plants for symptoms, which can look like other ornamental plant disease symptoms.

Those include leaf spots and blotches, leaf scorch or sunburn. Plant lesions can be brown with a bull's-eye effect with dark brown edges and lighter centers.

More information is available at www.agr.state.ga.us.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.