Dutch elm disease claims more of Benson’s trees

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It seems as if there are a lot of Benson’s elms this summer with a bright orange X painted across their trunks.
The large, stately shade trees are showing the signs of Dutch elm disease – wilted leaves that are turning brown and yellow, curling in and falling.
This past week Tree Toppers of Montevideo has been working steadily to take down the diseased trees, leaving bare boulevards and homes exposed to the sun for the first summer in decades.
After relatively low numbers in 2011 and 2012, the number of Dutch elm cases in the city jumped.

Year    Diseased elms
2011    20
2012    28
2013*    38
2014    49
2015    Not known yet

The 2013 figures for Dutch elm disease trees removed doesn’t reflect the loss of trees the community saw due to the June 21 severe storm that struck with 85 mph winds. It wasn’t just a single gust of wind that uprooted and snapped off hundreds of trees in the city, leveled turkey barns in Swift Falls, and crumpled buildings on farmsteads in the area. The straight-line winds howled at over 50 mph, with the gusts of 85 mph, for more than half an hour.
It is believed that the Dutch elm disease first began attacking the Benson’s elms in the mid-1970s with the first documented case reported in 1977. At the time, the city had nearly 5,000 elm trees lining its streets, providing green leafy corridors of shade.
By 2001, it was estimated that half of those elms were gone. Since then, another 40 to 90 elm trees have succumbed to the disease annually.
Elm bark beetles that carry an infectious fungus spread the Dutch elm disease. The fungus affects elms by invading the water-conducting vessels causing the vessels to become plugged. This reaction by the tree to the fungus prevents water from circulating in the tree causing it to wither and die.
The disease can also spread through the root system of trees that are intertwined with an infected elm.
Because the beetles lay their eggs in dying and dead elm trees, the city seeks to remove them as quickly as possible before they become a home to another generation of the insects.

 Photo: Trees infected with Dutch elm disease are being cut down to slow the spread of the disease.

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