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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Beech leaf disease has spread rapidly across the state, according to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

The DEM said the disease is now considered widespread in Rhode Island, meaning residents no longer need to report sick beech trees.

Beech leaf disease is caused by a microscopic worm called a foliar nematode, which eats away at the trees’ leaves over time.

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.

The DEM 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.

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The disease first arrived in Rhode Island back in 2020. The DEM said the disease has since spread to trees in all five counties.

It’s unknown how the nematodes have been able to spread to other beech trees so quickly, but researchers suspect the worms are latching onto birds.

“As research develops, management options may become available that are suited to landscape trees but may also require long-term, repeated treatments,” the DEM said in a statement. “The cost of such treatments may not be possible to deliver to forested environments.”

There is currently no effective treatment for beech leaf disease. 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.

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