Stem cankers were observed on confection sunflower (Helianthus annuus) plants growing in a field in Champaign County, Illinois in August 2008. Lesions were brown to reddish brown, elongated (approximately 10 to 15 cm long), and centered over the area where leaf petioles connected to the stems. Stem tissues underneath the lesions were degraded. Lesions from diseased stems were cut into 5- to 7-mm pieces and immersed in a 0.5% NaOCl solution for 1 min, rinsed with sterilized distilled water, and placed into petri dishes containing acidified potato dextrose agar (APDA; 4 ml of 25% lactic acid per liter). Fungal colonies that grew from the stem lesion pieces on APDA were white, floccose, and dense with dark colored substrate mycelia. On the basis of the symptoms on sunflower plants and the growth characteristics on APDA, the fungus was tentatively identified as Phomopsis helianthi (1). To confirm the identity of the fungus, PCR amplification of the small subunit rDNA and internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region with primers EF3RCNL and ITS4 was done (2). The PCR product was sequenced with these primers at the Keck Biotechnology Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana. The resulting nucleotide sequence was compared with small subunit rDNA and ITS sequences deposited in the nucleotide database (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) and showed highest homology to sequences of Diaporthe helianthi, teleomorph of P. helianthi. To confirm pathogenicity of the fungus, sunflower plants (cv. Cargill 270) were grown in the greenhouse and inoculated with the isolated fungus. The stems of sunflower plants between the V2 and V4 growth stages (3) were excised just below the uppermost node. Mycelia plugs of the fungus were placed into the large end of disposable micropipette tips (200 μl). The micropipette tip containing the fungus was subsequently placed over a cut sunflower stem. The fungal isolate was used to inoculate five stems. To serve as controls, five cut sunflower stems were inoculated with micropipette tips containing plugs of noninfested PDA and five cut stems were not inoculated. Mean lesion length on the stem was measured from the inoculated tip toward the soil line 7 days after inoculation. The experiment was replicated over time. Mean lesion length over both replications averaged 24 mm on the fungus-inoculated plants, 2 mm on the noninfested PDA-inoculated control plants, and no lesions were present on the noninoculated control plants. The fungus was reisolated on PDA from the inoculated plants in the greenhouse. To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. helianthi causing a stem canker of sunflower in Illinois. Although commercial sunflower production in Illinois is currently limited, it is being evaluated as a potential crop to follow winter wheat in portions of the state. If sunflower production were to increase in the state, growers may have to monitor for and manage Phomopsis stem canker.
References: (1) T. Gulya et al. Sunflower diseases. Page 263 in: Sunflower Technology and Production. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI, 1997. (2) N. S. Lord et al. FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. 42:327, 2002. (3) A. A. Schneiter and J. F. Miller, Crop Sci. 21:901, 1981.