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Augusta State oak's infection reappears

Until recently, hope had been high for Augusta State University's 400-year-old Arsenal Oak.

Evidence of the tree's killer disease, which was discovered in June, was no longer showing after an experimental treatment. But now, although officials agree the treatment has helped preserve the tree for the past three months, their hope has faded as signs of the disease reappear.

"It has spread," said Henry Frischknecht, the owner of Empire Tree and Turf in Augusta, referring to a 35-foot-long section of the tree that only weeks ago showed evidence of hypoxylon canker - considered the cancer of trees.

"We have slowed it up, though, no doubt. With the weather conditions we had this year, if we had not done anything, it would have been dead within a month."

The discovery of the newly infected section came as bad news to Max Brown, the university's grounds supervisor.

"We thought we had stopped (the disease)," he said. "But it's showing its ugly face again."

Still, Mr. Frischknecht says he thinks his experimental treatment - which is being used for the first time to battle hypoxylon - could be effective.

"I've got my fingers crossed, but it is a tough one," he said. "If we can get it through this season, I'm optimistic."

Named for the old Augusta Arsenal, the tree is the largest and oldest white oak in Augusta and is the inspiration for Augusta State's logo, according to the university's Web site. Signs of hypoxylon were discovered on the tree about three months ago.

Within the past few weeks, some of the oak's leaves have changed to brown and one of its limbs recently broke and fell to the ground, Mr. Brown said.

Three large limbs on the tree also have recently died, and the Arsenal Oak has contracted a new leaf foliage disease, Mr. Frischknecht said.

"It showed up three weeks ago," he said, noting that the foliage disease could be discula, which can be deadly.

Mr. Frischknecht said his treatment - which includes two types of fungicides - called fungicol and bannermax - has at least slowed down the tree's hypoxylon. The fungicol has been injected into the tree's sap system, and the bannermax is sprayed on the tree's exterior. If the treatment proves successful, Mr. Frischknecht said, it would be a major breakthrough.

"It would be heard across the country," he said.

Hypoxylon is a fungus that causes a white rot and cankering on hardwood trees. It often contributes to the premature death of trees weakened by drought or construction damage.

Mr. Frischknecht is seeking approval from Cornell University to study his treatment on hypoxylon spores that have been taken from the Arsenal Oak. Such a study at Cornell's labs, he said, could help determine how effective his treatment is.

But at Augusta State, only time will tell if the Arsenal Oak will be cured.

"It will take at least a full year to see if it's successful," Mr. Frischknecht said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904.



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