Surveys for Tilletia walkeri on annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) were conducted during 1997 and 1998 in the southeastern United States, where suspect teliospores of the Karnal bunt fungus, Tilletia indica, were found in USDA-APHIS surveys of wheat (Triticum aestivum) seed in 1996. T. walkeri is morphologically similar to T. indica. Annual ryegrass is a common weed in wheat fields in the southeastern United States. Between April and June 1997, ryegrass seed samples were collected from 190 fields of wheat in 47 counties in Georgia and from 26 fields in 17 counties in Alabama and south-central Tennessee. In 1998, 70 samples were collected from 40 counties in the same regions of the three states. The teliospores from these samples were 23 to 45 μm in diameter (average about 33 μm) and ranged from light brown to dark reddish brown. They had coarse, widely spaced cerebriform ridges on the surface and were surrounded by a gelatinous sheath. The ryegrass bunt was identified as the recently described species T. walkeri, occurring on ryegrass seed from Australia and Oregon. In 1997, teliospores of T. walkeri were found in 13 samples from eight counties in central Georgia and from one field in Tennessee. In 1998, more teliospores and bunted seeds were found, possibly due to frequent rain in the region throughout the flowering period for ryegrass. Teliospores were found in 26/70 of the samples, and among these, only a small number of bunted seed were found in 12 of 13/70 samples. In one wheat field in Morgan County, Georgia, about 50% of the ryegrass seed collected was partially bunted, and a small percentage was completely bunted. Fields with teliospores were widely distributed and generally matched the locations where teliospores were found in APHIS wheat seed surveys in 1996 to 1998. T. walkeri occurs at very low levels on ryegrass in the Southeast and is the source of teliospores, initially identified as those of T. indica, associated with wheat seed in APHIS surveys. No bunted wheat seeds or teliospores of T. indica were found in the survey.
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