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Guide Beech Leaf Disease in Massachusetts

Beech leaf disease (BLD) is a newly described disease, first identified in Ohio in 2012. The disease complex is associated with a foliar nematode species, Litylenchus crenatae. The disease causes damage to a tree’s leaves, leading to reduced vigor and can eventually lead to tree mortality.

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History of BLD in Massachusetts

Plymouth County June 2020 First Detection in Massachusetts

Beech leaf disease (BLD) is a newly described disease, first identified in Ohio in 2012.The disease complex is associated with a foliar nematode species, Litylenchus crenatae. The disease causes damage to a tree’s leaves, leading to reduced vigor and can eventually lead to tree mortality. There are still many unknowns about how the disease is spread, how new trees are infected, or how long it takes for symptoms to develop. However, we do know that American beech, European beech, and Oriental beech can be infected. Infected trees of all ages and in both urban and forested settings have been observed.

Symptomatic leaves of Beech Leaf Disease
Symptomatic leaves of Beech Leaf Disease

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Detection in Massachusetts

Beech leaf disease has quickly spread from its initial detection point in Ohio. Currently, BLD has been found in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. The first detection in Massachusetts was in June 2020 in the town of Plymouth (Plymouth County). Symptomatic trees have also been found in Worcester (Worcester County) and Blandford (Hampden County).

Beech leaf disease infected European beech with symptomatic leaves and a thin canopy.
Beech leaf disease infected European beech with symptomatic leaves and a thin canopy.

The DCR Forest Health Program is surveying beech trees across the state to determine the extent of the disease in Massachusetts. Check back for more updates; maps and additional data will be coming this fall when we conclude our survey efforts for this growing season.

How to Identify and Report Beech Leaf Disease

Close up of leaf infected with Beech Leaf Disease
Close up of leaf infected with Beech Leaf Disease

Beech leaf disease can be identified by the distinctive leaf symptoms it causes. Early BLD symptoms will include dark stripes between the veins on leaves. When looking up at the tree canopy from underneath, you might notice dark green bands on the underside of the leaves. As the disease progresses, leaves may become withered, curled, or develop a leathery texture. A heavily impacted tree may appear to have a thinner canopy or have sections of branch dieback.

Other insects and pathogens can also cause leaf damage on beech. However, this damage is usually easy to distinguish from BLD. Mites and aphids will feed on beech leaves and cause discoloration, but this is usually lighter in color than the leaf compared to BLD with has darker bands forming. Other insect or pathogen damage can cause leaves to look brownish and become more brittle, in comparison to BLD that will develop a more leathery texture as it withers and curls the leaves. Beech will also naturally hold onto leaves into the winter, if you see a beech with brown leaves still attached in the winter, this is normal.

Leaves heavily impacted by Beech Leaf Disease that have begun to curl
Leaves heavily impacted by Beech Leaf Disease that have begun to curl

If you think your beech tree might be infected with beech leaf disease, please report it to the DCR Forest Health Program by sending an email to Nicole.keleher@mass.gov or calling (857)337-5173. Any details you are able to provide about the location, symptoms and severity of the disease, or any pictures of the tree will help us in our monitoring efforts of the progress of this disease in the Commonwealth.

Additional Resources for How to Identify and Report Beech Leaf Disease

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