Aspen stands in Southwest suffering from fungal disease

Visitors marveling at the fall foliage in national forests might find that some of the aspen leaves are brown and blotchy or gone already.

Spores released from leaves and twigs that were infected by a fungus last summer were carried to new leaves by splashing rain and wind this year. The result is that instead of presenting golden yellow colors, leaves in some aspen stands across the Southwest have brown spots and blotches.

U.S. Forest Service officials say visitors shouldn’t fret because the discoloring isn’t widespread enough to ruin leaf-peeping trips.

Arizona cities near national forests where aspen are found at higher elevations got above-normal precipitation this monsoon season, including Alpine and Heber, in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and Flagstaff, surrounded by the Coconino National Forest.

Grayish areas in the center of the brown and blotchy spots indicate a presence of spores that could perpetuate the infection of aspen leaves if weather conditions are favorable for the disease.

Forest officials say they’re not expecting a die-off of aspen or significant loss in growth. However, successive annual epidemics of the disease can weaken or kill the root systems of aspens.

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