In April 2010, during a survey conducted in Fthiotis Prefecture of central Greece, symptoms of stem necrosis and leaf lesions were observed on two container-grown plants of Rhododendron, hybrid ‘Kate Waterer' in a nursery. From symptomatic leaves, a Phytophthora species was isolated on PARPH-V8 selective agar medium (2) with typical morphological characters of Phytophthora ramorum S. Werres & A.W.A.M. de Cock (4). The whole block of plants was under probation until molecular verification of the pathogen was completed. The nursery was reexamined 6 weeks after the first encounter, whereas spread of the pathogen was noticed to neighboring plants in the same block; five more Rhododendron plants with similar symptoms were recorded while one of the originally infected plants was dead. Isolates of Phytophthora with similar morphology were obtained from symptomatic leaves of three new plants as well as from the potting mix of a severely infected plant that was baited in a Rhododendron leaf assay (2). All Rhododendron plants in the block belonged to the same consignment imported from Belgium and covered by a phytosanitary plant passport. Colonies on 10% clarified V8 juice agar appeared with coralloid, coenocytic mycelium with radial growth at 1.7 mm per day at 20°C and maximum temperature 26 to 27°C. Propagules characteristic of P. ramorum, including semipapillate, caducous, sporangia measuring 35 to 55 × 15 to 30 μm (1.9 length/width ratio) and large chlamydospores (45 to 80 μm), were observed on V8 agar. One isolate was confirmed as P. ramorum by sequence analysis of the internal transcribed spacer region of rDNA and was deposited in the culture collection of the University of Athens (ATHUM 6522). Comparison of amplicon sequences (using ITS4/5 primer pair) of approximately 875 bp long was carried out using MEGABLAST search for highly similar sequences. Alignment data revealed the highest and most significant homology to P. ramorum (GenBank Accession No. AY594198.1) at 99%. Pathogenicity tests were carried out using detached leaves of Rhododendron hybrid ‘Red Jack’ and Arbutus unedo L., which were slightly wounded and inoculated with mycelium agar plugs (3). Necrotic lesions appeared on the inoculated leaves of both plant species 10 days after incubation at 20°C, while no symptoms developed on control leaves inoculated with sterile agar plugs. P. ramorum was consistently reisolated from artificially infected leaves of both plant species. Following confirmation of pathogen presence, eradication measures were applied in the nursery. The adverse weather conditions encountered in summer, with temperatures very often above 35°C, are expected to favor pathogen eradication. However, not all plants of the same consignment imported from Belgium were traced and it is possible that other infected plants have been sold in other areas of Greece. So far, P. ramorum had been reported in 21 other European countries; Serbia is the nearest country where the pathogen was detected (1). To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. ramorum in Greece.
References: (1) A. Bulajić et al. Plant Dis. 94:703, 2010. (2) E. J. Fichtner et al. Phytopathology 97:1366, 2007. (3) R. G. Linderman et al Online publication. doi:10.1094/PHP-2007-0917-01-RS. Plant Health Progress, 2007. (4) S. Werres et al. Mycol. Res. 105:1155, 2001.