PITTSBURG — The vibrant appearance of some of the flowers found in Pittsburg citizens’ gardens may be deceiving.

Last Friday, the Kansas Department of Agriculture broke the news that its plant protection and weed control program confirmed the presence of Sudden Oak Death disease in hundreds of rhododendrons sold at 60 Walmarts in Kansas and one Home Depot in Pittsburg. The rhododendrons were shipped to these stores from Park Hill Plants nursery in Oklahoma.

According to suddenoakdeath.org, a website put on by the California Oak Mortality Task Force, SOD is a tree disease caused by the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora Ramorum. Though the pathogen poses no risk to humans or animals even if ingested, the website says it has killed millions of tanoak trees and several oak tree species and caused twig and foliar diseases in other plant species, including California bay laurel, Douglas-fir and coast redwood.

According to K-State Wildcat Extension District Horticulture Agent Jacob Weber, the pathogen is contagious.

“The concern here is that it will become established in our population of oaks and other landscape plants, and become an issue that will affect a lot of plants and may possibly become a serious forest issue,” Weber said. “It’s a concern because of potential economic damage.”

Because there is no cure for SOD, Weber said anyone who purchased a rhododendron from a Walmart store or a Home Depot store in the area this year should double bag them in a plastic bag and either throw them away, bury them deeply or burn them.

According to the American Rhododendron Society, U.S. regions that are best suited for growing rhododendron and azalea species run along the east and west coasts, along the Gulf of Mexico and around the Great Lakes.

John Harrsion, owner of In The Garden, a local nursery and gardening store in Pittsburg, said his shop does not sell rhododendrons because Southeast Kansas does not fall in any of these regions, which makes it difficult for the rhododendrons to handle the area’s heat.

“The chains don’t care about that; they’re just nice, big pretty plants and they know that people are going to buy them because they’re in bloom even though they don’t do well for our area,” Harrison said. “I can order them, but we don’t landscape with them because the survival rate is very low because of the heat and humidity in our summers.”

Regardless, Weber says that at this point, because of the severe potential of SOD, it’s imperative for these plants to be destroyed as soon as possible.

“If you have one plant that’s infected, pretty soon you have 1,000 plants that are infected and then after that,10,000 plants infected within a very short period of time,” Weber said. “It spreads like wildfire; that’s what the issue is. Right now is the prime time to take care of an issue; right when it starts and get it under control right away.”

Attempts to reach Walmart, Home Depot and Park Hill Plants nursery in Oklahoma were unsuccessful.