Monday, April 15, 2013

Be on the Lookout for Cedar Apple Rust

Most of us who live in the triangle are hoping for rains to wash away the yellow film of pollen coating our cars, houses, and sidewalks. Spring rains also jump start the most bizarre life-stage of cedar apple rust, a common disease that affects apple trees (and crab apples) and eastern red cedar trees.
Galls on cedar (Photo: H.D. Shew)
The cedar apple rust pathogen (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) requires two hosts and four spore stages to complete its complex life cycle. On cedar trees, the most obvious signs of infection are firm brown galls, which are about the size of a golf ball and are usually found scattered on the tree’s branches and twigs. After a heavy rain, the galls produce striking bright orange gelatinous horns, which are composed of millions of spores called teliospores. In dry periods, the horns can be seen as short spikes covering the galls. If you find a gall with dried horns, cut it out of the tree, place it in a glass of water and watch over the next few hours as the horns expand.
Gall with dry telial horns (Photo: H.D. Shew)
The cycle of wetting and drying can continue several times during the spring, and in each cycle the teliospores germinate and give rise to another spore type, called basidiospores. These basidiospores are forcibly discharged into the air and are wind-blown to nearby apple trees.

 Apple leaves and fruit are most likely to be infected when they are wet and temperatures range from 46 to 75 F. Yellow to orange spots are produced on the upper surface of the apple leaves one to two weeks after infection. The spots on leaves may be raised or swollen and infected fruit may be slightly distorted. Small black dots within the lesions signal the production of the next spore type, the pycniospores (also called spermatia). One to two months later, fringed cup-shaped structures (aecia) appear on the underside of the apple leaves and these contain aeciospores, yet another spore type.

The aeciospores are windblown to cedar trees in late summer to early fall, where they germinate and infect to produce galls. The galls produce teliospores in the second year after infection, completing the life cycle. G. juniperi-virginianae survives in the gall tissue for only two years. After its second year, the spore producing year, the pathogen dies in the gall tissue. On apples, the pathogen survives only a few months, just long enough to produce the aeciospores that infect cedar trees.
Symptoms on apple (Photo: E.C. Lookabaugh)
Cedar apple rust causes only minor damage to cedar trees from twig dieback. Damage to apple is more significant and can result severe defoliation and fruit blemishes. Since this pathogen requires both hosts to complete its life cycle, control can be achieved by eliminating one host from the surrounding area, although oftentimes eradication is not feasible or desirable. Additional control measures include the use of disease-resistant apple cultivars, properly timed fungicide applications on apple, and removal of cedar galls before spring rains.

Check out this cool video of telial horns expanding (Video: Arlene Mendoza-Moran)