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Researchers identify aggressive fungus killing ‘ohia trees

By Mileka Lincoln

For the past five years, ‘ohia trees on Hawai'i Island have been under attack -- dying mysteriously and rapidly from an unknown disease, but researchers are now one step closer to figuring out how to prevent mass devastation now that they've figure out what's killing the native species.

Ceratocystis Fimbriata is an aggressive and deadly fungus so powerful, the disease has been named Rapid ‘Ohia Death -- because of how quickly a once-healthy tree deteriorates once it's been infected.

"It basically plugs up the sap wood so that the tree basically is strangled to death by the fungus and that's why we see the leaves turning brown so quickly. The fungus is plugging up the trees ability to transport water," said Dr. Flint Hughes, an Ecosystem Ecologist with the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry.

The disease spreads so quickly, officials say once the leaves start turning brown the entire tree dies within about a month. It's not the first time experts have encountered the fungus in Hawai'i, but they've never seen it attack ‘ohia before.

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Date: 
Tuesday, February 24, 2015