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Blight at Martis Creek

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Martis Creek Cabin (9/4/19) John Poimiroo

Passing Martis Creek Meadow (CA 267 between Northstar and Brockway Summit) on the Labor Day weekend, quaking aspen along the edges of the grove appeared to be approaching peak.

However, on closer inspection, these aspen are blighted. The yellow and orange seen above is not fall color change. It’s aspen blight.

Aspen blight, Martis Creek Meadow (9/4/19) John Poimiroo

There are numerous types of blight that affect aspen. The most common is Marsonnina blight, which appears as black dots on leaves, eventually speckling them and ruining their autumn show.

In Martis Creek’s case, the trees surrounding the grove have brown tinting along their edges, but those nearest the oft-photographed Martis Creek Cabin off CA-267 show no signs of blight.

The blight is most akin to Ink Spot disease, though only a few of the leaves exhibit the tell-tale march of overlapping drips of blight which give the disease the name, “ink spot.” By this time in summer, the spotted sections have dropped out of the leaves and become holes as seen on the center-most, upper leaf in the closeup photo.

Groves in the meadow to the east of the cabin have been badly affected with numerous trees now brown or having dropped their leaves. Overall, the blight has ruined about a third of all leaves in this popularly photographed grove.

That is not to say that you should skip visiting Martis Creek Cabin this autumn. The blighted trees have their own stressed beauty and once the unaffected green aspen leaves begin to turn, the contrast of colors is likely to be beautiful.

No where else at Tahoe did I find the same condition, and I was not able to visit the Hope Valley on this North Tahoe sojurn. So, the condition may be localized.

As to their longterm impact, such blights are often a year-to-year situation resulting from how wet the area was in late spring or whether the area experienced drought, anything that might encourage fungal growth or stress the trees.

A gardener could do some things at the appearance of aspen blight to mitigate the disease, but as these trees are in a forest, the discoloration is a natural aspect of nature’s painting.

Martis Creek Meadow (6,500’), Just Starting (0-10%) – A third of the trees are blighted, have turned brown or dropped leaves. Willows near the creek are glowing yellow-orange and near peak. As yet, no significant color change can be seen in the Sierra, though occasional spots of yellow color are beginning to appear.

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