Friday, April 8, 2016

Beeches in Desperate Straits

"That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people.  There are no trees like the trees of that land.  For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold.  Not till the spring and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey."

-- Legolas, elf of the Woodland Realm, describes his homeland Lothlorien, in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. 
"I thought I had been transported to an enchanted elven forest today, as I walked in the silvery spell of a beech grove in the Skidmore Woods, a radiant sun pouring down warmth from a cobalt sky, the translucent leaves of the baby beeches fluttering in the slightest breeze, setting the air alight.  At last we had a lovely warm day that truly felt like Spring!"

I took this photo and wrote those words on April 8, 2013.  Today, April 8, 2016 (not at all such a sunny warm day!), I returned to that beech grove in the Skidmore Woods, and found that in just three years, almost all of those beautiful beeches were starting to die.  They are victims of a terrible blight, caused by a beech-scale insect infestation followed by a nectria fungal disease, which is well on the way to destroying every American Beech in our northeastern forests.  Here's what that smooth silvery bark looks like today, all blistered and pocked, the distinctive sign that this deadly blight is on its way to killing this tree.  And nearly every other mature beech tree in the vicinity.

It is truly heartbreaking to imagine the northeastern forest without these groves of silver and gold, and equally frightening to see how quickly this blight is doing its worst.  As far as I know, there is no treatment to stop it, at least not on the scale that could save vast stretches of beech forest.  But here and there, foresters are finding some vigorous individuals that appear to be unaffected, remaining in good health while all other beeches in the vicinity are succumbing. I have read that recent trials with some of these apparently healthy trees have shown them to be resistant to the scale, which offers some hope that methods can be developed to increase the levels of resistance in affected forests.  Dear God, we can only hope!


Uta said...

I'm so glad that you made all of us aware of the Beech problem. I will keep an eye on my beautiful Purple Beech in my Garden, my pride and joy. I will let my garden club know as well, so that we can all keep our eyes open. Thank you.

The Furry Gnome said...

Sometimes I fear that what we are doing to the planet is beyond hope.

catharus said...

Yes, so very sad! A favorite tree species!