Layla Manning might not have noticed when landscaping crews painted the downtown Beaufort Christmas tree green, but she couldn't help but notice Monday morning when they chopped it down.
So she decided to nose around. As it turns out, the 16-foot-tall Leyland cypress was dying from Seiridium canker, a disease common to the species. The tree on Bay Street by the Beaufort Downtown Marina had been painted green to hide the browning boughs.
"I'm sad to see it go, but I'm glad we'll have another one back in the fall," she said. "But, yeah, it's sad, and amusing that they've been spray painting it."
The fungus cuts off water flow to branches, killing them individually. Left unchecked, it can spread to the trunk and kill the entire tree, according to Clemson University Extension. Affected branches turn brown and needles can fall off.
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"There's nothing anyone did to make it happen, and there's nothing anyone can do to keep it from happening," said Jerry Ashmore, Beaufort branch manager for The Greenery, the city's landscaping contractor. "It just happens to Leyland cypresses."
The problem was identified late last fall, and samples were sent to Clemson University for testing, he said. By that point, it was almost time to decorate for the holidays, and cutting out diseased portions was one of The Greenery's few options.
Since that likely would have left something that looked like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, Ashmore suggested painting the branches to get through the winter. They used a power sprayer to coat the diseased limbs in November.
The Greenery intends to treat the soil and plant a new tree this fall so Beaufort can continue the tree-lighting tradition, Ashmore said. However, the company will plant another variety because a new Leyland cypress probably would get Seiridium canker.
Clemson University Extension's website suggests arborvitae as an alternative because it has a similar shape and size. Ashmore said The Greenery will probably plant one between 16 and 18 feet tall
"It's a great tradition having the Christmas tree down there and the lighting of the Christmas tree as part of Night on the Town," Manning said, "so it will be exciting to have a tree back -- and not have it be painted."