As autumn approaches, the American Beech trees on campus are under attack by a vicious fungal assailant. The University is experiencing an epidemic of beech bark disease, a scourge relatively new to this part of the state. According to Jeffery Ward of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the full implications for beech trees as a species are still unknown.
Ward is currently conducting research on the disease and has found that the fungus does not immediately kill the trees, allowing them to remain standing while crippled by the infection.
According to Steve Broderick of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, the disease is spread when a non-native invasive bark aphid bores through the bark to feed on beech sap, leaving an “infection port” for the common fungus nectria canker to enter in its wake, which wreak havoc as it slowly overtakes the tree.
Visible early symptoms include a white wax secretion caused by the aphid. However, the most significant damage occurs after the invasion of the fungus, when a red-brown secretion oozes from dead spots in the bark. The fungus may eventually spread over large areas of the trees.
The campus trees that were killed by the disease have already been cut down. The future of the remaining beeches on campus is uncertain pending further investigation by Physical Plant.
“We are consulting various tree experts and have followed their recommendations. We are not done with the research yet,” he said.
Physical Plant Grounds and Events Manager Dave Hall said that the negative impact of the fungus remains limited to the beech trees.
“There is no danger to students or wildlife, except the danger of dead branches falling on them,” he said.