Beech Leaf Disease
A highly valued native tree, The American Beech, is under assault, throughout New York and its entire native range. The Beech Leaf Disease (BLD) is spreading rapidly, and there is as yet no cure, but as the New York DEC says “there is no known way to control or manage this disease.” Most trees are dead within 2-7 years.
Here is a young one from my yard that is most certainly doomed. Notice the new growth, the yellow leaves, as the tree struggles to survive the infection.
We know a nematode, Litylenchus crenatae mccannii, is implicated, but we don’t know how it’s spread.
All we can do is to ask people to tell us where they see beeches, sick or not. We need to identify beeches, say, that are more resistant. Plant tissues need to be analyzed. We do not have a lot of time given the speed of the spread and how quickly death comes.
If you see a beech, check for disease.
Look for wrinkled leaves, and this secondary growth. The nematodes infest the leaves and starve them, with possibly a secondary infection involved. The tree tries to grow new leaves, but this is a war of attrition, and a short one. The more we can study this disease as it manifests itself tree to tree, the faster we can develop strains that can persist.
If you spot any beeches at all, report the information to the New York State DEC at this website. If these beeches are on Long Island, let us know as well. We are also supporters of the American Chestnut Foundation. Just as The LIC is devoted to returning The American Chestnut, so are we now committed to rescuing yet another of our natural heritage, The American Beech.
We have been there before — The American Elm, felled by The Dutch Elm Blight, The American Chestnut by the Chestnut Blight, carried by the Chinese Chestnut Tree, and first noticed at The New York Botanical Gardens in 1904. Four billion trees killed in a matter of a few decades.
There are ongoing efforts to return the American Chestnut, and that can serve as a model for how we seek to save the American Beech. Right here in New York, at The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in Syracuse, they have produced the Darling 58, a genetically engineered American Chestnut tree the resistant to the blight. A gene from wheat was spliced in that helped the tree break down a corrosive acid that the fungus produces that girdles and kills the tree. They are awaiting government approval for this hybrid.
It will take such an innovation to save the American Beech now. Humanity is going to have its hands full for the next decades engaged in large scale habitat restoration. It is saddening to witness another important forest tree seemingly doomed, but we must have faith that we can find a way to keep this tree with us.