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Four Beeches Lost in Aquidneck Park

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 10, 2013
2nd Beech FallsFollowing on the heels of the beech that narrowly missed the Edward King house, the recent snowstorm brought down another of the three beeches mentioned in the article below (a tree which had been slated for removal). This directly answers the questions many have had regarding whether or not it was truly necessary to remove these beautiful beeches. In the interest of public safety, beech trees showing signs of disease and decay must be removed before they become a public hazard.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE – JAN 31, 2013

A towering beech recently fell in Aquidneck Park, narrowly missing the Edward King House. At the time, three other European Beeches were in the process of being removed from the park by the Newport Division of Forestry, including last year’s Newport Tree of the Year.

Unusual weather over the past several years has contributed to unexpected tree losses as certain plant pathogens and pests have thrived during alternating periods of uncommon rainfall and drought. General systemic stress from these weather trends (and extreme events such as Hurricane Sandy) has also taken a toll on our trees.

The most pointed example of the severity of these losses can be seen in our European Beech population, which is in the midst of a severe decline. The European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) is failing suddenly and unexpectedly across the Northeast, and our town has been no exception. The root pathogens at fault in this troubling trend are now the subject of study by many concerned arborists and plant pathologists.

These losses are a sober reminder to our community that we cannot take the health of our city’s tree canopy for granted. Our rich arboreal heritage must be actively preserved and consistently renewed.

The following letter from Scott Wheeler (City of Newport Building & Grounds Supervisor and Newport Tree Warden), addresses the loss of the 2011 Tree of the Year in Aquidneck Park:

“The European Beech tree died of a root pathogen called phytophthora that is killing mature beech trees across the city. The Newport Tree Society secured funding to have the tree treated with a product called Agri-Fos to try to slow the progression of the disease but last year’s wet spring appears to have been the final straw for this specimen tree.

To avoid damage to the park turf we are trying to remove the tree when the ground is frozen so this recent warm spell will delay the completion. Note this is one of three beech trees we are in the process of taking down in Aquidneck Park. We have removed everything but the trunk of a very tall beech that was an imminent hazard to the Martin Recreation Center and the Pop Flack tennis courts. The last one is also in the center of the park just to the south of the “Tree of the Year”. It has lost 90% of its canopy and will need to come down.

One troubling trend we noticed in Hurricane Sandy is that a number of beech trees with this root disease completely pulled out of the ground. It is very important that property owners remove beech trees that have died or show signs of major structural root loss for public safety. As Tree Warden I have notified a number of property owners that their dead beech trees must be removed because it threatens a public right-of-way.

We have known for some time these trees were declining and have installed a “shadow” planting of beech trees to get a head start. The largest planting occurred in April of 2000 for Arbor Day as a memorial planting for Senator John Chafee dedicated by then Senator Lincoln Chafee. Once the trees are completely down we will evaluate the need for additional trees but we want to provide enough room between the beech trees to insure each can develop a full open canopy.”

– Scott Wheeler

GALLERY OF IMAGES: AQUIDNECK PARK EUROPEAN BEECHES

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The Newport Arboretum, New England's first citywide arboretum, is a special project of The Newport Tree Society of Newport, Rhode Island.