In June 2009 in a commercial nursery in eastern Sicily (Italy), 3-year-old potted windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei (Hooker) H. Wendl.) showed a decline in growth, wilt, droop, and basal rot of the youngest leaves. The rot progressed inward and killed the bud. Initially, older leaves remained green but eventually the entire plant collapsed. Root rot was consistently associated with aboveground symptoms. Two Phytophthora species were consistently isolated from the petiole base, heart, roots, and rhizosphere soil of symptomatic plants on a selective medium (2) and occasionally recovered from roots and rhizosphere soil of asymptomatic plants. Pure cultures were obtained by single-hypha transfers and the two species were identified on the basis of morphological and molecular characters as Phytophthora palmivora and P. nicotianae. Both species were recovered from all symptomatic plants. From multiple tissue samples per plant, we recovered either or both species. On potato dextrose agar (PDA), P. palmivora isolates grew between 10 and 35°C, with the optimum at 27°C. On V8 juice agar, they produced elliptical to ovoid, papillate, caducous sporangia (32 to 78 × 23 to 39 μm) with a mean length/breadth (l/b) ratio of 1.8:1 and a short pedicel (mean pedicel length = 5 μm). Isolates of P. nicotianae produced arachnoid colonies on PDA, grew at 37°C but did not grow at 40°C. Sporangia (29 to 55 × 23 to 45 μm) were spherical to ovoid (l/b ratio 1.3:1), papillate and often bipapillate, and noncaducous. Isolates of both species produced amphigynous antheridia and oogonia only when paired with reference isolates of P. nicotianae of the A2 mating type. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of rDNA of two isolates of P. palmivora (IMI 398987 and IMI 398988) and an isolate of P. nicotianae (IMI 398989) from T. fortunei was amplified with primers ITS6/ITS4 and sequenced (1). Blast analysis of the sequences of isolates IMI 398987 and IMI 398988 (GenBank Accession Nos. HQ596556 and HQ596558) showed 99% homology with the sequence of two reference isolates of P. palmivora (GQ398157.1 and GU258862), while the sequence of isolate IMI 398989 (HQ596557) showed 99% homology with a reference isolate of P. nicotianae (EU331089.1). Pathogenicity of isolates IMI 398987 and IMI 398989 was proved by inoculating separately each isolate on 1-year-old potted plants of T. fortunei (10 plants per isolate). A zoospores suspension (2 × 104 zoospores/ml) was pipetted onto the petiole base of the three central leaves (200 μl per leaf) of each plant. Sterile water was used for control plants. All plants were incubated at 25 ± 2°C with 100% humidity for 48 h and then maintained in a greenhouse at 24 to 28°C. Within 3 weeks, all inoculated plants showed symptoms of bud rot. Control plants remained healthy. P. palmivora and P. nicotianae were reisolated only from inoculated plants. Bud rot of palms caused by P. palmivora was reported previously in Italy (3). However, to our knowledge, this is the first report of simultaneous infections of P. palmivora and P. nicotianae as causal agents of this disease. Outbreak of bud rot may have been favored by overhead sprinkler irrigation. The recovery of P. palmivora and P. nicotianae from rhizosphere soil and roots of asymptomatic plants suggests infested soil was the primary inoculum source.
References: (1) D. E. L. Cooke et al. Fungal Genet. Biol. 30:17, 2000. (2) H. Masago et al. Phytopathology 67:425, 1977. (3) A. Pane et al. Plant Dis. 91:1059, 2007.