AUSTIN — The mighty Central Texas oak trees that help shade homes and beautify neighborhoods are falling prey to an incurable and deadly disease.
Oak wilt is a fungal disease that has caused tree deaths in 74 Texas counties.
Trees infected with oak wilt can spread the disease to surrounding oaks via their interconnected root systems.
When that happens, the only way to stop further spread is by digging trenches to break the root connections.
The deadly disease also can be spread by insects, which strike primarily from February through June. Sap-feeding beetles are attracted to the sweet-smelling spore mats produced by infected red oaks.
The disease is spread when those insects fly off to feed on a healthy red oak or a live oak with a fresh wound.
Texas A&M Forest Service Forester Eric Beckers said oak wilt is primarily seen in the central part of the state but confirmed cases of the disease have been reported in the Texas Panhandle and eastern areas.
“We’re talking about trees that have been in the landscape for a century or more. We don’t replace those trees overnight,” Beckers said, adding that the death of such majestic trees can lead to drops in property values. “Preventing oak wilt is the key.”
A wound is created any time bark is removed and wood is exposed, Beckers said.
That can happen with the simplest of tasks — clearing brush, pruning limbs or even pushing a lawn mower over a bare tree root.
That bare wood produces sap, which attracts the sap-feeding beetles, Beckers said, stressing the importance of avoiding wounds in the spring, painting tree wounds year-round and destroying diseased red oaks.
“You don’t want to have to manage oak wilt. That means you have it. You want to prevent it from happening,” Beckers said. “Oak wilt is a bear. It’s very difficult to stop.”
Visit www.texasoakwilt.org  for more information or to contact a forester specializing in oak wilt.