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.