Friday, December 21, 2012

The Once and Future Chestnut

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…"

Dr. Larry Grand on chestnut. August 2004.
Photo: Caroline Vernia
I can count on the burned fingers of one hand the number of times I've eaten chestnuts, but for some of you they may be an important part of your holidays. A century ago – back the last time folks were dating their letters 12/21/12 – the American chestnut, Castanea dentata, was one of the most prominent trees of the eastern North American forest, from New England down the Appalachians and areas to the immediate west and south (range map). Apart from the prized wood, these trees provided nuts that served as food for humans and wildlife. There was a problem, though. From the area around New York City a blight was spreading. By the time Mel TormĂ© and Bob Wells had penned "The Christmas Song" in 1944, most of the native range of the American chestnut had been affected by the disease. Now most of the chestnuts are gone from their original range. The picture at left was taken in 2004 and shows retired NCSU forest pathologist Larry Grand standing on the remains of a once great chestnut tree (I don't actually know the cause of death in this case.)

Fruiting bodies of Cryphonectria parasitica
on the trunk of a chestnut tree. October 2006.
Photo: Marc Cubeta
So what happened? This was another case of an introduced fungus causing widespread destruction on a plant species that had not evolved resistance to it. See the discussion of coevolution in our Dec 3rd blog, if you missed it. The fungus Cryphonectria parasitica had been brought accidenetally from Asia on seeds or seedlings. This fungus causes branch and trunk cankers that eventually girdle and kill the tree. Of all the tree species susceptible to C. parasitica, the American chestnut is the most seriously affected. The fungus reproduces by spores formed in orange-colored fruiting bodies on the bark (picture at right). Two types of spores are produced: one that spreads by wind and one that is transported by birds, insects, or water splash. When spores reach a wound on a chestnut tree they germinate, and the fungus infects. According to information provided by the American Chestnut Foundation, it takes only 2 to 10 years for a mature chestnut tree to die. For more information on the disease process, see the March/April 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Chestnut Foundation. 

Unfortunately this sort of scenario has repeated itself with increasing frequency and rapidity as efficient transportation systems have allowed us to move plants and their diseases around the globe. In October 2011, the disease called "box blight" was first found in North America. Within months it had been found in nine US states and one Canadian province, and it hasn't stopped spreading. This has implications not only for the nursery industry, but for the cut greens industry this time of year. For more information about this threat specific to boxwood and Pachysandra, see Dr. Kelly Ivors' box blight information pages.

Chestnuts. Western NC. October 2006.
Photo: Marc Cubeta
Returning to the chestnut trees, it is an interesting fact that the roots are not killed by the fungus, so new sprouts can repeatedly develop. Eventually, though, this new growth succumbs to the blight. Back in October of 2006, one of our professors came across a chestnut tree in the North Carolina mountains that had grown large enough to bear nuts, though it was clearly infected with chestnut blight (picture at left). I suspect it is gone by now.

Concerted efforts to bring the chestnut back have been going on for some time. Different strategies have been attempted, the most important of which is to cross the native species with resistant species, principally Castanea mollissima, the Chinese chestnut. Another approach was to inoculate trees with a weak (“hypovirulent”) form of the fungus that prevented the deadlier version from killing them. The main reason these strains are weak? They themselves have a viral infection! The 2004 Annual Review of Phytopathology contains an analysis of this situation. (For those unfamiliar with the term, "phytopathology" is the study of plant diseases.) Sadly, one of the hurdles faced by growers trying to re-introduce the chestnut is yet another disease: root rot caused by the fungus-like organism Phytophthora cinnamomi.

Wishing a safe and enjoyable holiday season to all our readers from the NCSU Plant Disease and Insect Clinic! Note that we will be closed December 24th through January 1st, but looking forward to serving you in 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nematodes in the Tree Tops

Deodar cedar, NCSU Campus
Photo: M.J. Munster, PDIC
Japanese black pine, Wilmington, NC.
Photo: John Wooldridge, NCCES.

What do the two trees in the foreground of these images have in common? They are both infected with the pine wood nematode. This pest also goes by the name "pine wilt" nematode and by the jaw-breaking scientific name Bursaphelenchus xylophilus. That's a big name for roundworms less than a millimeter long. They also are narrow and nearly transparent, making them difficult to see without a microscope. The micrograph below shows swarms of them emerging from a bit of infected wood that was placed in water. Although they are called pine wood nematodes, they can invade a number of genera of conifers in addition to pines.
Bursaphelenchus xylophilus
Photo: NCDA&CS Nematode Assay Laboratory, Weimin Ye

Let me back up a moment for those not familiar with the Phylum Nematoda. Nematodes in general are extremely abundant on our planet, but relatively few cause economic damage. Most species are marine - ask your children if they've seen them on "Sponge Bob." Most of the terrestrial types are not parasites but are free-living scavengers and predators. A few bad actors besmirch the nematode name by causing human and animal diseases like trichinosis, hookworm, pinworm, and canine heartworm. Most plant parasitic nematodes live in roots and soil, such as the famous root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne species). Pine wilt nematodes are an exception. They don't inhabit the soil at any point in their life cycle and rely on a beetle to carry them around. The story is a bit complicated, but goes something like this…

Monochamus carolinensis,a species of pine sawyer
Natasha Wright, Florida Dept. of Ag. & Consumer Services
To get things started, you need a live or recently dead tree or log that is both loaded with pine wood nematodes and infested with one of the longhorn beetles known as pine sawyers. Inside the beetle galleries, the nematodes move into the trachea (breathing tubes) in the sides of the beetle. When the young adult beetles emerge from the wood, their first act is to do what's called a maturation feeding on the bark of healthy conifer twigs. Thus the beetle both carries the nematodes to a new tree and gives them an easy entrance by exposing the wood. There are no recorded instances of the nematodes ever saying "thank you" for this service. Once in the wood, the nematodes mature, reproduce, and colonize their new home. From there, disease progress can be slow or rapid. Tree growth slows down, and needles begin to yellow, wilt, and brown. This can happen on the whole tree or just one branch. Eventually the tree may die. Some of this information - plus the juicy details of the process, involving toxin production and "catastrophic xylem cavitation" - is found in Sinclair & Lyon's book Diseases of Trees and Shrubs, 2nd edition.

Austrian pine (background) and red pine, Wisconsin
USDA Forest Service – North Central Res. Station Archive
The astute reader may have noticed something else about the trees pictured above: they aren't native to North America. This is not a coincidence. Although our native pines can become infested by pine wood nematode, most species are not seriously harmed unless they are also under drought stress. The photo at left shows healthy native red pines and pine-wilt-affected Austrian pines in Wisconsin. The native conifers, the pine sawyers, and the nematodes all "grew up together", so to speak. There's been a millennial struggle for the upper hand that's led to a sort of stalemate over the years. Any trees that were too susceptible to the nematodes have died out. Likewise any nematode that could not prosper in the trees didn't survive. We call this process "co-evolution". Newly imported nonnative hosts suffer greatly in this situation, because they never evolved defenses against the local pests. Japanese black pine is a wonderful tree for our coast because of its salt tolerance, but many are lost to pine wilt nematode. Even worse is the situation in Japan and some other parts of Asia. There native pines have been devastated following the introduction of Bursaphelenchus xylophilus.

Sample of Japanese black pine as
received at the NCSU PDIC
If you have a tree that you believe might have pine wilt nematode, contact your County Cooperative Extension Service about sending a sample to the PDIC. Unfortunately, the best sample is rather destructive: a six-inch-long segment of the main stem (2-4" diam), just below the dead terminal. The picture at left shows an excellent sample we received earlier this year. We will forward the material to the NCDA&CS Nematode Assay laboratory. There is no cure for infected trees. The actions you take will be to prevent problems for healthy trees down the road, both literally and figuratively. Trees that test positive should be removed and destroyed. To prevent existing or new beetle infestations from moving the nematodes around, promptly chip the tree. After doing some investigating into the biology of the beetles, our Dr. Chuck Hodges has added the recommendation: "If feasible, it may also help to remove the stump 2-3 inches below ground line." In some quarters the idea seems to have circulated that stumps should be treated with borax. This is actually a practice used to combat annosum root rot - another occasional killer of conifers - but that will do no good against pine wilt. Much more information about pine wilt disease can be found in US Forest Service Publication NA-FR-01-04.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fungal frustrations

I've been wanting to write about this situation for quite a while, but only now have found the time: nuisance fungi in landscape beds. I'm going to zero-in on the two most aggravating groups: the stinkhorns and the artillery fungus. Other nuisances include the bird's nest fungi and certain true mushrooms. The "dog-vomit slime mold" is a very different sort of organism and was covered in our June 2011 blog post.

Stinkhorns. Wake Co., NC. Oct 2012. Photo: Greg Florian
Most stinkhorns are very conspicuous horn-shaped fungal fruiting bodies several inches tall that produce strong odors, unpleasant to humans. It's a bit hard to write about the stinkhorns without losing our PG rating, so I'll leave it to you, the reader, to look up the meanings of some of the Latin names if you want to know more. We received the image at left from a homeowner in Wake County. These are almost surely Phallus ravenelii, and they appeared in his mulched bed in early October. The submitter said he could smell them from two houses away. Is there a purpose to this odor, you ask? Take a close look at the picture and you can see that flies have been attracted to the stinkhorns. Why, you wonder? Well, the sticky green portion at the top contains the spores of the fungus. When flies visit, they pick up some of the spores and carry them away to new locations, so they're a means of dispersal for the fungus. You may have heard of a similar raison d'ĂȘtre for the foul smell of skunk cabbage, though in that case it's to attract pollinators. Fortunately for farmers and home gardeners alike, the odor does not persist once the fungi are gone.

Clathrus columnatus. Wake Co., NC. Jan 2008
Over several weeks in October and up until about our first frost, there were large numbers of stinkhorns in a the landscaped median of a major road near campus. Traffic didn't allow me to get a good look, but I think they were Mutinus elegans. This genus has a more tapered apex than Phallus. Back on January 18, 2008 I found a specimen of Clathrus columnatus on a south-facing slope here on the NCSU Campus. It had the smell of spoiled fish wrapped in a wet diaper. The fruiting body of this species has four "arms" fused at the apex.

Sphaerobolus gleba on siding. Jackson Co., NC.
Oct 2010. Photo: Christy Bredenkamp
Sphaerobolus gleba on gardenia leaf. Wake Co., NC. Oct 2012.
A very different dispersal mechanism is used by fungi in the genus Sphaerobolus. Their fruiting bodies on the mulch are small and inconspicuous, but they launch tiny dark spore balls for distances up to several feet, earning them the name "artillery fungus" or "cannonball fungus". The spore masses, known as gleba, stick fast to whatever they hit: plants, siding, and vehicles. Even when scraped off, they leave a stain, causing great frustration for the owners of affected homes and cars.

There's a lot more to these fungi than meets either the eye or nose. Their real "body" consists of a network of fine threads called hyphae that grow throughout the soil and mulch, where they decompose dead organic matter such as the mulch itself. The good news is that they do no harm to trees, shrubs, or bedding plants. The bad news is that there's no easy way to get rid of them. There are certainly no fungicides or disinfectants you can use in these situations. Removing stinkhorns as soon as they appear will help with the odor problem. Turning under the existing mulch and replacing it with composted mulch or a coarse pine bark mulch may help. Dr. Harry Hoitink of the Ohio State University has a very interesting fact sheet that includes a discussion of the microbial ecology of composts. One of his conclusions: "… water applied at the right time during composting, storage, and mulching can solve most of the fungal nuisance problems." Another very informative resource comes from Dr. Donald Davis at Penn State University. His Artillery Fungus FAQ gives details about this organism, how to deal with it, and suggestions from readers about how to remove the spots. It appears from reading his page that Dr. Davis has dealt with everyone from homeowners to attorneys about this issue.

Most fungi outdoors in North Carolina are going to be hidden from view over the winter, but keep the nuisance fungi in mind when planning your next landscaping project. You may be the next one to notice an unusual smell in the neighborhood.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Don’t Move Firewood!

Photo: Larry Grand
With a chill in the air and leaves turning brilliant colors here in Raleigh, our thoughts turn to cozy firesides, big bonfires, and warm campfires after a long day’s hike. With this in mind, we asked Rob Trickel of the North Carolina Forest Service for a timely reminder about the dangers of moving firewood. 

Invasive Pests and Firewood Movement

Non-native invasive forest pathogens and insect species have potential to cause great harm to North Carolina’s forests and landscapes.  The fungus that causes laurel wilt is killing redbays and swampbays in the Coastal Plain and we think it may also devastate sassafras across the state.  Other invasive diseases and insects that have the potential to cause great harm to walnuts (thousand cankers disease), ash (emerald ash borer), and a variety of hardwoods (gypsy moth) are found in counties in Tennessee and Virginia adjacent to our state (see current invasive monitoring map).  In addition, Asian longhorn beetle is devastating a wide variety of hardwood tree species in the Northeast and Midwest, and has the potential to do the same here.   All of these pests have the following in common:  they move naturally from place to place at a very slow rate, but can be spread rapidly if moved in firewood.

Emerald Ash Borer Galleries in firewood. Photo: Troy Kimoto, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Moving firewood can introduce invasive pests to new ecosystems, where they can cause ecological, economical, and social problems in our forests.  In response to the rapid spread of emerald ash borer via firewood, some states have even enacted laws regulating the movement of firewood to slow the spread of invasive species.  North Carolina is approaching the problem with public awareness and education campaigns and has joined with other southeastern states to promote the use of local firewood or firewood that has been treated or certified to be pest-free.  

As part of the effort, the Changing Roles program of the USDA-Forest Service has developed two fact sheets about firewood movement as a means of spreading invasive species to new areas. These fact sheets help equip our partners who work with various audiences (consumers and producers of firewood) with information to combat the spread of invasive pests.

Fact Sheet 5.4 (Invasive Species and Firewood Movement) is firewood/invasive species 101 and covers:  What is firewood?  What types of invasive pests are transported in firewood? Why is the movement of firewood a pathway for the spread of invasive pests? What are the ecological, economical and social effects of invasive pests?  

Fact Sheet 5.5 (Preventing Firewood Movement) concentrates on how to engage a variety of audiences on firewood issues including:  How do we (foresters, extension staff, natural resource professionals) communicate with and engage different audiences on this important topic? How do we work with homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts (also parks and campground staff, arborists and green industry professionals, wood processors and producers) to combat the spread of invasive pests?  How is the movement of firewood regulated? And, where can I find more information about preventing firewood movement?

You can find more information about firewood movement and forest health, excellent images of the insects and diseases that can be spread by moving firewood, some very entertaining videos at   

Photo: Rob Trickel
Prepared by Rob Trickel, Forest Health Branch Head, North Carolina Forest Service

Monday, October 22, 2012

Super Sad Sunflowers: Alternaria leaf and stem spot

Field of sunflowers (Photo: B.B.Shew)
Sunflowers are becoming an increasingly popular alternative crop in North Carolina. A field of sunflowers in bloom is beautiful, but sunflowers are most important as an oil crop. Sunflower oil is lighter in taste and supplies more Vitamin E than other vegetable oils. Sunflower oil is particularly appealing to the food industry because it is trans-fat free and stable without hydrogenation, making it excellent for frying and increasing shelf life. Since most sunflowers are produced in the Great Plains region of the U.S., little is known about which diseases and insect pests may become problematic or limit sunflower production in North Carolina.

As the growing season came to an end, we received several sunflower samples that we diagnosed with Alternaria leaf and stem spot. In the traditional growing areas of the Great Plains, Alternaria is usually of minor importance because conditions are not favorable to severe disease development. Unfortunately for us, North Carolina has hot and humid summers perfectly suited for Alternaria disease development.
Alternaria disease symptoms (Photo: E.C. Lookabaugh)

Alternaria leaf and stem spot is caused by the fungus Alternaria. Two species of Alternaria cause disease on sunflowers, Alternaria helianthi (now known as Alterniaster helianthi) and Alternaria zinniae with A. helianthi being more common. Symptoms include irregular leaf spots, stem lesions, and dark brown spots on the seed heads. Leaf spots are dark brown with grey centers. Yellow halos around spots are seen on younger foliage. The stem lesions begin as dark flecks that enlarge to form large blackened narrow lesions. Severe infections result in defoliation and stem lodging.
Flower head symptoms (Photo: E.C. Lookabaugh)
Stem lesions (Photo: E.C. Lookabaugh)
The pathogen survives on infested plant debris and on the alternate hosts safflower and cocklebur. Cocklebur is native to the U.S and is found throughout NC. Safflower is not present in NC. The fungus is spread by wind and splashing water. Spores splash from infested crop debris onto the lower leaves and stems, where symptoms first appear. Warm, humid conditions favor disease development and spread.

Control of this disease can be achieved through a strict sanitation program, crop rotation, and the use of preventative fungicides. Sanitation is key. Disease plants should be removed and destroyed. Cultural methods that limit splash dispersal and long periods of leaf wetness probably will help to reduce disease. These include avoiding overhead irrigation and using proper plant spacing to promote air circulation. This disease can be seedborne. Use certified, disease-free seed that is produced in dry regions where Alternaria is not a problem. Do not save seed from diseased plants. Do not grow sunflowers two years in a row in the same field because the fungus overwinters on plant debris. Tillage operations promote debris decomposition and reduce the chances of splash dispersal of the fungus. Preventative fungicide applications can be started when symptoms first appear or at flowering, since this is when plants become most susceptible to the disease.
Happy Sunflower (Photo: B.B. Shew)

Post by Emma Lookabaugh and Barbara Shew

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Southern Stem Rot on Peanut

Written by Barbara Shew 

The fungus Sclerotium rolfsii has over one thousand plant hosts and causes diseases on field, vegetable, and ornamental crops grown in North Carolina. On many hosts, the first sign of infection are profuse strands of white, fan-shaped fungal growth at the base of the plant. Later, the fungus produces large numbers of round, tan-to-brown sclerotia that resemble mustard seed.
Stem Rot on Peanut ( Photo: B. Shew)
On peanut, the disease caused by S. rolfsii is known as southern stem rot, stem rot, or white mold. White fungus growth appears when the environment is right, often just following a rain (Figure 1). However, southern stem rot can be very damaging on peanut even when the distinctive fungus is not apparent; the damage often is hidden below ground. In addition, above-ground symptoms of stem rot can be hard to distinguish from other important peanut diseases, including CBR, Sclerotinia blight, and Rhizoctonia limb rot. The best way to determine the severity of a stem rot problem is to check the plants within an hour or two of digging. It is a good idea to check peanuts for symptoms of stem rot, CBR, and nematode damage immediately after digging. Growers should note problem areas so that appropriate controls can be used the next time peanuts are grown. I prepared a short video pointing out the distinctive features of stem rot on freshly dug peanut plants.

For more information about peanut diseases and their control, check out these links:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Box Blight Variety Trials

Box blight is a new disease to the U.S. and is caused by the fungus, Cylindrocladium buxicola.  Box blight can seriously affect the appearance and aesthetic value of boxwoods. Typical symptoms include circular leaf spots with dark brown to purple margins, dark brown to black stem lesions, blighted foliage, and eventual leaf drop.  Under humid conditions,  white fuzzy spore masses can be found on infected stems and leaves.  Disease develops rapidly in warm, humid conditions and is more severe in shade conditions.  Boxwood varieties differ in their susceptibility to box blight.  A recent study determined that B. sempervirens types are more susceptible to box blight.  B. microphylla var. japonica 'Green Beauty', B. sinica var. insularis 'Nana', B. harlandii, and B. microphylla 'Golden Dream were all found to have some level of resistance to box blight.  Be sure to remember that some boxwood varieties are limited in their optimal plant hardiness zones.  
Box Blight Symptoms
For more information on Box Blight, click here.  For more information on the boxwood variety trials, click here.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Honey Mushrooms Galore

Last week NC State hosted the 18th Ornamental Workshop on Diseases and Insects at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC.  Ornamental pathologists, entomologists, and diagnosticians from across the country spent the week discussing all things related to ornamental diseases and insect pests.  Lucky for us, we were also able to carve out some time to do a little hiking/ mushroom hunting in Pisgah National Forest.  Over the course of our 5 mile hike, we saw one black snake, one timber rattlesnake, and thousands of honey mushrooms! Apparently Pisgah National Forest is a hotbed of Armillaria.  With all of the recent rain, you should start seeing Armillaria honey mushrooms popping up in your neck of the woods as well.  For more information on Armillaria root rot, see our previous blog post here.
Honey Mushrooms (Photo: E.C. Lookabaugh)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Asiatic Soybean Rust Update

Reprinted from North Carolina Pest News
Steve Koenning, Extension Plant Pathologist
Jim Dunphy, Extension Soybean Specialist

Asiatic soybean rust has been confirmed in Robeson and Johnston counties, North Carolina. Between this find, and the confirmation of rust in Robeson County, North Carolina, and in Union County, Georgia, this puts rust approximately 105 miles from Charlotte, 140 miles from Elizabeth City, 15 miles from Fayetteville, 15 miles from Murphy, 35 miles from Raleigh, 80 miles from Washington, 75 miles from Wilmington, and 80 miles from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

We do not recommend spraying soybeans with a fungicide to control Asiatic soybean rust if they are not yet blooming, if they are blooming but rust has not been confirmed within 100 miles, or if full sized seeds are present in the top of the plant (stage R6). Such pre-bloom applications have seldom improved yields, and repeated applications will likely be needed to provide season-long protection against rust. The higher labeled rates tend to provide more days of prevention, and may thus require fewer applications. The triazole fungicides, alone or in combination with a strobilurin fungicide, will probably provide better prevention of rust than a strobilurin alone. Be sure to check the fungicide label to see how many times it may be used in a season.

An exception to the above recommendation is if Asiatic soybean rust is found on the farm before bloom, spraying a fungicide to the rest of the fields on the farm is recommended. Soybeans that have just reached full bloom (stage R2) typically have 65 days until they’re safe from rust or frost (stage R7) if they are full-season soybeans, or closer to 55 days if they are double-crop soybeans. If they have small pods in the top of the plants (stage R3), they have 55 and 47 days, respectively, to R7. With full sized pods in the top of the plants (stage R4), they have 45 and 38 days, respectively, until R7. From stage R5 (small seeds in the top of the plant) they typically have 35 and 30 days, respectively. From stage R6 (full sized seeds in the top of the plants), they typically have 20 and 17 days, respectively.

Rust will typically take 10 to 20 days from initial infection to develop to detectable levels. It will take another 7 to 14 days to spread to other leaves on the same plant, and another 10 days to cause significant defoliation.” This assumes optimal conditions for rust, “65 to 85 degrees, and either overcast or rainfall” through much of this period. This is not common in North Carolina in September and October but has and can occur.

The rust prediction models say there was a fair to good chance rust spores were deposited in North Carolina this weekend. If so, we expect to detect rust in about three weeks in sentinel plots, which would be about October 1. It will likely take another two weeks with optimal conditions for rust to increase to damaging levels.

The current status of soybean rust in the U.S. can always be found at

Friday, September 14, 2012

Need Weekend Plans? Exciting Happenings in the Triangle

Looking for something exciting to do on Saturday? If so, join NC State's Department of Plant Pathology in two fun-filled activities! On Saturday, the Plant Pathology Graduate Student Association (in conjunction with the Plant Pathology Society of North Carolina and USDA APHIS PPQ Center for Plant Health Science and Technology) will be hosting the Bug Bus exhibit at BugFest.  BugFest is an annual event put on by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  BugFest features displays, exhibits and tons of activities for children both inside and outside of the museum. Every year BugFest has a different theme insect with this years being mantids! Need to brush up on your mantid knowledge before the big day? Then check out this great post from the Museum of Natural Sciences blog, Mantid Madness.  Our exhibit, the Bug Bus, features insect vectors of plant pathogens.  Kids can hop on the Bug Bus and collect stamps in their BugFest passports as they learn about different plant diseases and pests.  Our booth will be located inside the museum on the first floor (underneath the whale). So, if you are brave enough to make your way through hoards of screaming children, then come check us out! It's FREE! 

More information on BugFest can be found here.

Well if BugFest doesn't whet your appetite, maybe football and barbecue will.  NC State's Department of Plant Pathology will also have a booth at the annual CALS Tailgate.  Tailgate is the largest single Alumni event held at NC State University.  Tailgate "is a showcase for the College's academic, research and extension mission, packed around fun events like a silent auction, live band, departmental displays, children's games, great food, fun and friendship!" McCall's will be catering an all you can eat BBQ buffet.  Join us as we cheer on the Wolfpack! 

More information on CALS Tailgate can be found here.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sample of the Week: Poinsettia scab

Rapid elongation of poinsettia stem infected
with Sphaceloma poinsettiae
Poinsettia scab, caused by the fungus Sphaceloma poinsettiae, was found on a sample from a commercial greenhouse this week.  It has been six years since the PDIC last diagnosed this disease in a North Carolina poinsettia crop. As the name implies, this fungus causes leaf spots and stem lesions, but the most noticeable effect is an abnormal elongation of the poinsettia stem. The purple leaf spots may develop a light tan center, and they sometimes have a yellow halo. The surface of the spot is characteristically puckered, which is best seen under magnification. An olive-colored, velvety layer of spores may be present on the spots and stem lesions. These spores are spread to other plants via water splash. Long-distance transport occurs on infected planting material. This disease cannot survive between seasons in North Carolina in the absence of a poinsettia crop. For a good summary of the disease, see the 2001 APSnet publication by Mike Benson et al. Growers should be sure they get clean stock and should scout points for leaf and stem symptoms. Keeping leaf wetness to a minimum will help reduce the advance of the disease. Apply azoxystrobin (Heritage), trifloxistrobin (Compass O), triflumizole (Terraguard), or triadimefon (Strike) to protect plants. An interesting side note is that while this fungus is a problem for poinsettia producers, it has been studied as a possible biocontrol agent for wild, weedy poinsettia relatives in the tropics. 

Special thanks to Dr. Kelly Ivors for contributing to this post.
Close-up of poinsettia stem showing scab lesions
Scab lesions on poinsettia leaf, caused by Sphaceloma poinsettiae

Monday, August 27, 2012

Don't Forget Plants, Pests, and Pathogens: August 28th 2012

Plants, Pests and Pathogens is an in-service training program for Horticulture Extension Agents and Extension Master Gardeners.

The Plants, Pests, and Pathogen sessions will be conducted on the fourth Tuesday of February, April, June, August, and October 2012 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. Every session includes a discussion of current plant disease and insect problems by the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic's Mike Munster and Dave Stephan.

Find out about the many other exciting presentations planned for this year by checking out the Master Gardener Plants Pests and pathogens webpage. We hope to see you on-line!

Log On To August meeting: click here

General information: click here

Info for Master Gardeners: click here


Info for agents: click here

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rose rosette hits close to home.

Several roses in this bed are showing symptoms of rose rosette.
Those of you living in the Raleigh, North Carolina area may have read the article in the News and Observer on Saturday August 25, 2012 about the removal of several rose bushes from the Raleigh Rose Garden and from a traffic circle on Hillsborough Street. The reason: they had been diagnosed with rose rosette. This disease has been known in North America for decades, but it seems that it has become more common in our area over the last two years. The author of the N&O piece, Bruce Siceloff, did a good job of gathering and presenting the pertinent facts about this disease. Let me review some of them here and expand on what he provided.

Witches' broom and leaf deformation
Symptoms can vary depending on the variety of rose involved and may include elongated flexible shoots, proliferation of shoots leading to a “witches-broom” appearance, excessive development of thorns (soft or not), leaf deformation, retention of juvenile red coloration in shoots, flower abnormalities, decreased cold hardiness, and plant death. There is a rather elaborate molecular test that can be used to confirm the presence of the virus that causes rose rosette, but we do not currently offer that service at the NCSU Plant Disease and Insect Clinic. If you see the “hyperthorniness”, then you can be confident in the diagnosis, but some cases are not clear-cut. Not all symptoms may be present in any given plant. Shoot proliferation and leaf deformation can also be caused by accidental exposure to low doses of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup), so if you observe this symptom do some sleuthing to see if drift might have occurred.

The shoot on the left retained its red color.
Rose rosette was only recently proven to be caused by a virus, but it has been long known to be transmitted by the microscopic eriophyid mite Phyllocoptes fructiphilus. These are not the same as the more familiar spider mites. Small size makes up for their lack of wings, and these mites can be carried about on air currents. I’ll leave it to my entomology colleagues to comment on whether mite control is of any benefit. There is no chemical control for plant virus diseases. Since viruses become systemic in their hosts, pruning may not be effective. Removal of infected plants is the safer bet. You should bag them before digging, to reduce the chance that the mites will scatter on the wind and take the virus to nearby plants. Remove enough of the roots so that the infected plant does not re-sprout. Also remove any nearby weedy multiflora roses that may be serving as a reservoir of the virus. Fragments of small roots left in the soil should pose no risk. I could find no studies proving the spread of Rose rosette virus through natural root grafts, although this has been demonstrated for other rose viruses. For this reason and because of the mite vectors, planting rose bushes next to one another should be considered a risky behavior. Of course propagating from infected plants or grafting onto infected rootstocks is a no-no.

Research has shown that the incubation period for rose rosette can vary from 17 days to 9 months. Incubation period simply means the length of time it takes for a plant to show symptoms once it has been infected. We don’t have set recommendations about quarantining plants you get via purchase or trade, but some period of isolation and observation may be a good idea.
Extreme thorniness and flexibility are often seen in canes with rose rosette.

Is there a bright side to this story? It’s cold comfort to rose growers that this disease does not affect other kinds of plants. More encouraging is that some rose species are resistant. According to the second edition of Sinclair and Lyon’s excellent book, Diseases of Trees and Shrubs (2005, Cornell University Press), resistant species include the native Rosa setigera and Rosa carolina. No doubt some of these will be exploited in breeding programs trying to bring resistance into garden roses. Until then, vigilance and a shovel are our best tools against this serious problem.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Target Spot Found on Cotton in Eastern NC

Written By Steve Koenning, Extension Plant Pathologist and Keith Edmisten, Cotton Extension Specialist, NCSU 
Target spot (Corynespora cassicola) has been verified on cotton in Eastern North Carolina, and possibly in South Carolina. The geographic extent of the disease and any varietal resistance to Corynespora are not known at this time. Warm humid conditions favor the development of this disease. Quadris and Headline are strobilurin type fungicides that can be applied to cotton and should provide control for ten days to two weeks. The Efficacy of other fungicides on cotton for control of this disease is not known, but many triazole fungicides have not proved to be very effective against this disease.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Plant Carbuncles: Anthracnose on Banana Peppers

Anthracnose on banana pepper (Photo: L. Kaderabek)
We recently received banana peppers that were covered with sunken dead spots. The lesions on the fruit are symptoms of a serious fungal disease caused by Colletotrichum acutatum, C. coccodes and other Colletotrichum species. Lesions can also be found on stems and leaves. Colletotrichum acutatum produces pink spores in a sticky matrix, which often appears to coat the lesions in pink or salmon-colored ooze. If you look at the lesions with a hand lens, you can see small black dots arranged in concentric rings. These are fruiting bodies that produce the spores. The name of this disease is anthracnose.
Anthracnose lesions: Note salmon colored spores (Photo: L. Kaderabek)
Anthracnose lesions: Note concentric rings and black fruiting bodies (Photo: L. Kaderabek)
Several common plant diseases are called “anthracnose.” Unlike other tongue-twisting plant disease names, the “anthracnose” does not come from the name of the pathogen that causes it. Rather, it describes a disease with characteristic sunken lesions like those we saw on the pepper. This description is not very evident until we look at the Greek roots of the word “anthracnose.” It is derived from anthrax (carbuncle) + nosos (disease). Carbuncles are large boils – think of the Summoner in Canterbury Tales, who Chaucer describes as having a face covered with carbuncles, or of Prince Charles referring to a building proposed for a historic part of London as a “ . . . monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”

Anthracnose on pepper usually begins in “hotspots” in a field. The disease is favored by warm, wet weather. Because the masses of spores produced on the oozing lesions are perfectly adapted for dispersal in splashing rain or irrigation water, periods of rainy weather can lead to rapid spread and devastating losses.

The pathogen survives on plant debris left behind from previous plantings or on other susceptible plant hosts. Although the pathogen can survive on infested plant debris, typically it does not overwinter more than one year in the absence of a host, and rotation is an effective control. Peppers should be rotated out of infested fields or gardens for at least two years. Other hosts to avoid include tomatoes, eggplants, other solanaceous plants, and strawberries. The fungus can be introduced from contaminated seed, so always start with disease-free plants and seed. Removing infected fruit early in the season reduces inoculum levels. After harvest, disk or cultivate to bury debris. All infected fruit should be removed and buried. Left over plant debris from hotspots should also be removed to reduce inoculum levels.
Strawberry Anthracnose: Note salmon colored spores (Photo: E. Lookabaugh)
Strawberry Anthracnose: Note red marbling of the crown (Photo: E. Lookabaugh)
Resistance is available in some varieties of chili peppers, but not in bell peppers. Choose varieties with shorter ripening periods since the longer the fruit remains on the plant, the more likely it is to become infected. Once disease develops, anthracnose is very difficult to control. Fungicide applications should be used preventatively (at time of flowering) in fields with a history of anthracnose. For chemical control recommendations, click here 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mass Communicating Plant Pathology and Mycology: Part 2

Post submitted by Andrew Loyd, Graduate Research Assistant, North Carolina State University

Dr. Mike Benson discusses
Plant Pathology on WKNC
88.1 FM July 21, 2012
Dr. D. Mike Benson, Department of Plant Pathology, NCSU, stopped in at WKNC 88.1FM ( to introduce plant pathology, and discuss common diseases found in your backyard. Dr. Benson is highly regarded in the world of ornamental plant pathology and has been a faculty member at NC State for over 30 years.

The conversation was featured on Mystery Roach, a specialty show dedicated to psychedelic, progressive, noise, and garage rock from the 60′s and 70′s. The show airs, each and every Saturday from 8-10, often building around scientific conversations with an eclectic group of guests. The show is hosted by La Barba Rossa, aka Damian Maddalena. Damian is a forestry graduate student at NC State and has been the host of Mystery Roach for 4+ years.

On this rebroadcast, the music has been cut short for legality reasons, but if you enjoy this type of music the show can be streamed at every Saturday from 8-10AM EST.

Mass Communicating Plant Pathology and Mycology: Part 1

Post submitted by Andrew Loyd, Graduate Research Assistant, NC State University

Dr. Larry Grand discusses
Plant Pathology on WKNC
88.1 FM Sept. 24, 2011
Dr. Larry F. Grand, Department of Plant Pathology, NCSU, stops in at WKNC 88.1FM ( to discuss “The Mysterious Kingdom of Fungi”. Dr. Grand was recently honored with the dedication of the nationally renowned "Dr. Larry F. Grand Mycological Herbarium."  Dr. Grand is highly regarded in the world of mycology and has been a faculty member at NC State for over 30 years.

The conversation was featured on Mystery Roach, a specialty show dedicated to psychedelic, progressive, noise, and garage rock from the 60′s and 70′s. The show airs, each and every Saturday from 8-10, often building around scientific conversations with an eclectic group of guests. The show is hosted by La Barba Rossa, aka Damian Maddalena. Damian is a forestry graduate student at NC State, and has been the host of Mystery Roach for 4+ years.

On this rebroadcast, the music has been cut short for legality reasons, but if you enjoy this type of music the show can be streamed at every Saturday from 8-10AM EST.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bacterial Fruit Blotch of Watermelon

Nothing says summertime like slicing open a nice juicy watermelon! North Carolina produced 7,200 acres of watermelons valued at just over $24 million dollars in 2010. Most watermelons are grown in the sandy soils of the Coastal Plains or in the northeastern region of the state. 

We’ve seen quite a few watermelon samples at the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic this summer. Typically the most common diseases on watermelon in NC are Fusarium wilt, anthracnose, Cercospora leaf spot, gummy stem blight, and downy mildew. This summer we have received several samples with greasy lesions on the surface of the fruit. The disease: Bacterial Fruit Blotch or BFB caused by Acidovorax avenae subsp. Citrulli, or AAC.
Bacterial Fruit Blotch: Note greasy lesion and cracking (Photo: E. Lookabaugh)
AAC causes disease on most cucurbits, including watermelon, cantaloupe, muskmelon, cucumber and pumpkin. Bacterial fruit blotch was first reported in the U.S. in 1965 but did not receive much attention until 1989, when major outbreaks occurred throughout watermelon production regions. The disease now occurs every year with varying severity. 
AAC is a seedborne pathogen. Seedlings from infected seeds generally do not perform well. Water-soaked oily areas can be observed on the underside of cotyledons or other young leaves. Lesions expand along the veins and, in severe cases, infected seedlings collapse and die. Sometimes symptoms are inconspicuous or absent and the infected seedlings get transplanted to the field. There the bacteria are spread to healthy leaves and developing fruit by workers, on contaminated equipment, or in rain and irrigation splash. 
Water soaking on the underside of cotyledons (Photo: APS image library)
Once deposited, AAC infects through the stomata (tiny pores). Infections are most likely when a film of water is present on leaves or fruit, so rain, irrigation, and high humidity favor disease increase. The window for fruit infection is relatively short and lasts from just before flowering to about three weeks later. Once wax deposition begins on older fruit, the bacteria can no longer infect. Typical fruit symptoms include greasy olive colored lesions on the surface of the fruit. Under humid conditions, the lesions quickly expand. The lesions do not extend below the rind so the fruit is generally not affected at first. Over time, the rind begins to crack, allowing for secondary fruit rotting pathogens to invade.
Later symptoms: Note inconspicuous spots on foliage in  B (Photo: APS image library)
The most important way to manage this disease is through the use of certified disease-free seed. Plants produced from infected seed may not exhibit symptoms if conditions are unfavorable for disease. This means that asymptomatic watermelons may produce infected seed that can spread the disease. Certified seed is produced and tested with special methods that minimize the risk of seed transmission.

Managing bacterial fruit blotch once it is found can be problematic. Always keep seedlots together when planting seeds directly into the field or greenhouse. Monitor plants and remove infected seedlings. If one seedlot is contaminated, avoid spreading disease to healthy plants. Use drip irrigation rather than overhead irrigation to limit splashing. Plant spacing increases air flow and reduces humidity. Seeds from rotten fruit left unharvested in the field can produce infected volunteer plants the following year, which serve as sources of inoculum. Remove all volunteer plants to prevent production of secondary inoculum! 

Preventative chemical sprays applied before and during flowering prevent fruit symptoms from developing. There is no complete form of resistance available in watermelons, but varieties vary in their susceptibility. Varieties with dark-green rinds tend to be less susceptible than varieties with light-green rinds. Also triploid seedless watermelons tend to be less susceptible than diploid seeded watermelons. 

So, remember always start your watermelons from certified, screened seed. Don’t save watermelon seeds for next year – use them for a spirited seed spitting contest instead!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tobacco Budworm

Tobacco Budworm
This great image is an adult tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens, clinging to some unidentified stink bug eggs on a tobacco leaf in Nash Co. The photographer assumed that they were budworm eggs, but budworm eggs would be smaller and of a different shape, and I doubt a moth would risk damaging her eggs by hanging from them like that. In checking our records of insects on tobacco, I was surprised to find that out of several hundred samples, only 1 was of stink bug, some unidentified nymphs. The tobacco budworm is most often reported from tobacco and cotton in NC, but we also have records from geranium, petunia, rose, snapdragon, soybeans and even Fraser fir.

Post written by David Stephan

Friday, July 13, 2012

Time for Peanut Disease Control

Written by: Barbara Shew, Peanut Extension Specialist, NC State University
Leaf spots
Now is the time for peanut growers to begin foliar disease control programs. The first fungicide spray should go on when peanuts reach R3, or when about half the plants in a particular planting have at least one pod starting to develop. Most fields in North Carolina will be at or near R3 by now. In most cases, a group M (multisite) fungicide such as Bravo (chlorothalonil) or Tilt Bravo (groups 3 and M) should be used for the first spray in a 5-spray calendar leaf spot control program. You may be able to reduce the number of leaf spot sprays applied in a season by using the North Carolina leaf spot advisory after the first spray.
Example of a plant at R3 (very early pod stage) (Photo: B. Shew)
Southern stem rot
Southern stem rot usually starts at the crown of the plant or on stems touching the ground near the crown. Infected stems are the color of a brown paper bag. The white fungus growth is thick, stringy, or fan-shaped. Later, fungus structures about the size and color of mustard seed will develop.
Signs and symptoms of southern stem rot (Photo: B. Shew)

Southern stem rot is very active in hot, wet weather. Most peanut fields benefit from applications of fungicides that control stem rot during the hottest part of the season – usually from mid-July to late August. In North Carolina, we recommend starting stem rot control at the second leaf spot spray, or approximately two weeks from now. Fields at high risk for stem rot problems – those planted to a highly susceptible cultivar like Gregory, irrigated fields, fields or cultivars where heavy vine growth can be expected, and fields that have a history of stem rot and/or vegetable production – may benefit from using a soil fungicide for the first spray. Foliar fungicides effective against stem rot include Abound (group 11) and Provost (group 3). Artisan (groups 3 and 7), Convoy (group 7) and tebuconazole (group 3) are also effective but must be mixed with a foliar fungicide such as chlorothalonil or Headline (group 11). Fontelis (group 7), which recently was labeled on peanut, also is active against leaf spots and stem rot. Growers need to alternate fungicides from different groups or mix with a group M fungicide during the season to optimize leaf spot and stem rot control, and to avoid potential resistance problems. Remember that group 11 fungicides can only be applied twice in a 5-spray program. See the Agricultural Chemicals Manual for rates and other details. 

The new cultivar Bailey has moderate leaf spot resistance and good resistance to southern stem rot. The first spray can be delayed two weeks (R3+2) on Bailey. The new cultivar Sugg also has resistance to these diseases. Fungicide programs have not been tested as extensively on Sugg as on Bailey, but I believe that sprays can also be delayed on Sugg. Growers who chose to delay sprays on Sugg should be sure to scout carefully until we have more experience with this cultivar.

Begin scouting for Sclerotinia blight!
This week’s cool rainy weather has been highly favorable for Sclerotinia blight, so it’s time to begin scouting. Outbreaks of Sclerotinia blight can develop even in early July if weather is favorable and rows are within 6 inches of touching. It is important to check early for Sclerotinia blight because we have shown that the fungicide application made at the time of the first outbreak is the one most critical for control during the season. 

To scout for Sclerotinia blight, check several 100-foot sections of row. Early Sclerotinia infections often are found on limbs away from the crown. The fluffy white fungus is easiest to see early in the morning or after a rain. You must look inside the canopy to spot these infections. A 3 or 4 foot section of half-inch dowel or PVC pipe is a good tool for pushing vines aside for scouting. Infected stems develop a bleached appearance as the disease progresses. In fields with a history of Sclerotinia blight problems, apply a fungicide if you see active infections on an average of about 1% of the plants in a row. Continue to scout and monitor Sclerotinia advisories as the season continues. 
Early infect of Sclerotinia blight. Note fluffy fungus and bleached stems (Photo: Damon Smith)
Leaf spot and Sclerotinia advisories are available daily during the summer. Email Barbara Shew or your county agent if you would like to receive advisory emails. Advisories are also available on-line here