PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There’s a disease that’s spreading amongst certain trees in Rhode Island, and experts are worried about the impacts it will have on forests across the state.
Beech leaf disease was first identified in Ohio in 2012, according to University of Rhode Island plant scientist Heather Faubert. Since then, it’s spread to a number of states, including Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.
“This is a bad one,” Faubert said of the disease. “I’m not fond of this disease. It’s pretty horrible.”
Faubert said the disease first arrived in Rhode Island back in 2020.
There is currently no known solution to prevent it from spreading, according to Faubert.
“Our beech trees are in peril,” she said. “They really are in jeopardy.”
So what’s spreading the disease? Faubert said Nemotodes are to blame.
“Nemotodes are microscopic worms,” she explained. “Most live in the soil, but there are some that can live in leaves.”
While the worms are small, Faubert said their lasting impacts are easy to see.
“Almost all beech trees in Rhode Island are infected,” Faubert said. “I’ve never seen anything move that quickly.”
Early signs of beech leaf disease include dark striping on the leaves. The leaves will eventually wither and turn yellow before falling to the ground.
More Information: Beech Leaf Disease »
Faubert said as a result of the disease, infected trees use excess energy to try and regrow their leaves. That excess energy can wind up killing them over time, she added.
Beech trees can be found all over Rhode Island, but they’re especially prevalent in the southern part of the state.
Faubert said 40% of trees in Ashaway alone are beech trees. The thought of losing all of them, she said, is devastating.
“I feel like this is the worst insect or disease problem we’ve had in our trees,” Faubert said.
Faubert said anyone who has beech trees in their yard can try to treat them with a phosphite fertilizer, which researchers believe can help them withstand the stress of regrowing leaves.