- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

GHENT, BELGIUM (AP) - Visit the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris and chestnut trees greet you as you wander among graves of luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

When Anne Frank was in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, the view of a monumental chestnut tree was one thing that cheered her up.

In Cambridge, England, the two-century-old chestnut standing outside King’s College chapel has become a beloved icon.

In all those places _ and over much of Europe _ the horse chestnut tree is under threat.

Sometimes they crash across boulevards and smash cars, unable to bear the weight of their own foliage. At other times, city officials move in and cut them down before they collapse.

In high summer, their leaves can become so rusty it feels like October. As autumn approaches, many stand naked while other trees still wear their crowns of green.

The culprits: a moth that produces leaf-eating larvae and a bacterium that makes trunks bleed and die.

`’In a sense it is almost like a lethal cocktail,” said Dr. Darren Evans of the University of Hull. “If it is under attack by moths, it is probably going to be more susceptible to this bleeding canker _ which will kill it.”

A cure? Not immediately in sight.

“It is spread throughout most of northern Europe,” Evans said of the leaf miner moth in a telephone interview. `’We still don’t really know whether there is any effective way of controlling it.” The same goes for the bacteria.

Without any clear reason, the moth became rampant and spread through much of Europe about a decade ago. In Britain, it first surfaced in Wimbledon in 2002 and soon spread across England and Wales. It has flourished across the continent. The moth lays eggs in leaves and the larvae start devouring them, causing foliage to turn color as soon as July.

The rusting robs the tree of vital sunlight for key months and, weakened, some fall prey to other diseases such as fungi.

The moth was soon joined by a bacterium that came from the Himalayas and causes chestnut bark to bleed an oozing sticky liquid, sapping the tree and in many cases causing death.

`’The worst case scenario is that we lose most of our horse chestnut trees to this bleeding canker,” Evans said.

In Britain, which has up to 2 million chestnut trees, a 2007 survey showed that up to half could be infected with the disease. In countries like Belgium, France and the Netherlands, the alarm has also been raised.

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