The town of Newport, R.I. faces an unexpected shortage of urban greenery as its formerly lush population of European beech trees begins to succumb to old age. They were originally planted en masse over 120 years ago during a financial boom known as the Gilded Age, the period following the Civil War during which America experienced huge economic growth. Many wealthy families built large homes and estates in Newport and planted the beeches on their property and along the main streets.
Now beset by fungi, insects, and time, Newport’s beeches have become a central issue for the city’s inhabitants. Many view them as “iconic.” Some residents have taken to caring for the trees on their own property by watering them, spraying fungicide, or keeping pedestrians away from shallow roots. But some officials believe that such conservation efforts are futile since the trees do have a natural life span, and many are reaching the end of theirs. Efforts are being made to replace dead or dying trees with new and healthy saplings, which will take several years to reach the impressive size of their predecessors.