White bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai Regel & K. Koch) is a commonly grown ornamental in central and south Florida. Each summer of 2004 to 2007, a reoccurring disease was observed at a commercial nursery in central Florida. Diseased plants had brown, necrotic stripes between the lateral leaf veins, which usually appeared along the midvein and spread toward the leaf edge. Lesions developed on the youngest leaves as they emerged from the central whorl. During 2004 and 2005, 20 symptomatic leaves were sampled. A white, nonfluorescent bacterium was consistently isolated from symptomatic tissue. It induced a hypersensitive response (HR) on tomato, grew at 41°C, and was identified as a Acidovorax sp. based on fatty acid analysis and as Acidovorax avenae subsp. avenae by Biolog metabolic phenotype analysis (similarity 0.76 to 0.86). A partial 16S rRNA gene sequence (1,455 bp) (Accession No. EF418616) was identical to four sequences in the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) database: one from A. avenae subsp. avenae and three from A. avenae of undetermined subspecies. To confirm pathogenicity, a bacterial suspension (O.D590 = 0.1) was applied to fill the central whorl (~0.5 to 1 ml) of potted S. nicolai. Plants were incubated for 7 to 10 days inside plastic bags at ambient temperature. Plants were inoculated individually with five strains of A. avenae subsp. avenae, four from S. nicolai, and one from corn (ATCC19860). Two to nine plants per strain were inoculated in each experiment. All strains were tested at least twice and noninoculated control plants were included. Symptoms were reproduced on the emerging leaf of 50 to 100% of inoculated plants with all five A. avenae subsp. avenae strains. No symptoms were observed on the controls. The bacteria recovered from symptomatic tissue were confirmed to be A. avenae subsp. avenae. Corn seedlings were inoculated as described above, except that entire seedlings were sprayed. Water-soaked lesions along the length of older leaf blades developed in 4 to 7 days. Only the corn strain was pathogenic (>80% of seedlings symptomatic), indicating host specificity. To our knowledge, this is the first report of A. avenae subsp. avenae infecting S. nicolai. In 1971, Wehlburg (2) described the same symptoms on orange bird of paradise (S. reginae) as being caused by a nonfluorescent Pseudomonas sp. This report likely describes the same disease since the published description is consistent with symptoms caused by A. avenae subsp. avenae. The pathogen reported by Wehlburg (2) had one polar flagellum, reduced nitrate, produced oxidase and a HR, and utilized arabinose, but not sucrose or arginine, characteristics consistent with those of A. avenae subsp. avenae (1). The only difference was A. avenae subsp. avenae has a delayed positive starch hydrolysis (1), whereas Welhburg's strain was negative. This disease occurs mainly on young leaves when plants receive daily overhead irrigation. Incidence can be as high as 40%, occasionally causing mortality, but even mild symptoms affect appearance and reduce marketability as an ornamental.
References: (1) N. W. Schaad et al. Laboratory Guide for Identification of Plant Pathogenic Bacteria. 3rd ed. The American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN, 2001. (2) C. Wehlburg. Plant Dis. Rep. 55:447, 1971.
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