NJDEP urges residents to check trees for beech leaf disease

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TRENTON, NJ — The Department of Environmental Protection is urging New Jersey residents to check trees on their property for signs of beech leaf disease and report their findings to the New Jersey Forest Service. Beech leaf disease was first detected in Bergen and Essex counties in summer 2020 and is now confirmed in 10 additional counties.

To date, beech leaf disease has been observed in Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.

Beech leaf disease is an emerging forest health threat impacting native and ornamental beech trees, including American, European and Oriental beech in the Northeast. Initial visible symptoms are dark bands between leaf veins, which are best seen when holding a leaf up to a light source. At first, symptoms may only be present on a few leaves within a single branch, making initial detection difficult. As the disease progresses, more leaves become affected and additional symptoms, including browning leaf edges that begin to curl, leathery leaf texture and early defoliation, may become apparent. Eventually, tree mortality will occur.

“The threat of losing yet another native tree species from our forests within a short period of time can exacerbate an already strained system that struggles with other stressors such as invasive plants, deer herbivory, drought, flooding and climate change,” state forester John Sacco said. “We are experiencing the widespread loss of ash trees due to the emerald ash borer along with both the historic losses of American chestnut from chestnut blight and American elm from Dutch elm disease. Through individual observation and research, we can better understand beech leaf disease and work to keep beech trees in our forests and yards.”

“Beech trees are a common landscape tree throughout New Jersey, as well as an important species for wildlife, including bears, turkeys and wood ducks,” said John Cecil, assistant commissioner of state parks, forests and historic sites. “Ornamental beech such as weeping beech and copper beech are also susceptible to beech leaf disease. To lose beech trees from the landscape and ecosystem will have significant environmental impacts, which is why we are asking for the public’s help in checking trees and contacting the New Jersey Forest Service if they spot evidence of this disease.”

Smaller understory beech trees appear to be most susceptible to beech leaf disease, but beech trees of all size classes can be affected. The disease is progressive and causes severe decline to a tree’s health before the tree eventually succumbs, generally within two to seven years.

Residents with questions or suspected beech leaf disease outside the aforementioned counties may contact the New Jersey Forest Service’s Forest Health Program by emailing foresthealth@dep.nj.gov or calling 609-292-2532.

Photos Courtesy of NJDEP