Updated: Jan 3
Went for a brisk hike with the dogs at Fox State Forest in Hillsboro the other day. The forest has miles of trails through a wide variety of habitats. Download the trail map if you are interested in checking it out! When I first started hiking there I was excited to find a couple of large stands of American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, trees. If you don't already know, they have beautiful, smooth, light grey bark. In the fall when their leaves turn golden yellow, the light that filters through the leaves and bounces off the bark is beautiful. This is my favorite tree, second only to Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum.
Beech are an important tree species for wildlife as they produce nuts for a wide variety of species such as turkey, grouse, chipmunks, deer and bear. They also can form large stands when a mature tree sprouts many saplings directly from its roots. This is similar to Aspen trees, and the original tree and all its saplings are genetically the same organism.
Over the past 10 years or so Beech trees in New Hampshire have been under attack from Beech bark disease. It begins when a non-native insect species called a Beech Scale, Cryptocuccus fagisuga, pierces the bark. This allows a fungus to enter which ultimately compromises sap flow and the tree dies.
Video: On the Ridge Trail at Fox State Forest. Looking at some newly downed Beech, and others affected by Beech Bark Disease. I talk about it being a 'blight' in the video. A blight is any tree disease cause by bacteria or fungus. In the case of Beech Bark disease, there is an insect-fungus complex. The insect essentially paves the way for the fungus.
Interestingly enough, there is a an experimental patch at Fox State Forest where they have been trying to grow blight resistant Chestnut trees, another species that was wiped out in the early 20th century due to a similar disease. Even closer to home at the Tom Rush Forest, a new Chestnut seed orchard was planted with similar goals. Maybe one day we'll see similar efforts for the American Beech.