A single Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia Carrière, an ornamental, deciduous tree) with symptoms of witches'-brooms and branch dieback, consistent with those associated with the walnut witches'-broom (WWB) phytoplasma (1), was observed near Ames, IA. No other Japanese walnut trees were present in the planting and the numerous black walnut (Juglans nigra L.) trees were asymptomatic. Leaf samples were collected in September 2009 from witches'-brooms as well as from two asymptomatic branches from the Japanese walnut tree and from three branches each from two nearby (10 m and 100 m away, respectively) black walnut trees. The presence of phytoplasma was tested using DNA extracted (sodium dodecyl sulfate and potassium acetate methods) from the midvein of individual leaves and PCR with universal phytoplasma primers P1 and P7, which amplify from the beginning of the 16S rDNA to the beginning of the 23S rDNA gene (4). Each of the five symptomatic leaves yielded a PCR product, but the two asymptomatic leaves from the sole Japanese walnut tree did not. One of the three asymptomatic leaves from a black walnut tree (100 m away) was also positive. In a subsequent round of PCR, with the nested primers R16F2 and R16R2 (4), three additional asymptomatic leaves from the two black walnut trees were positive. The P1/P7 or R16F2/R16R2 products from each of the three trees were directly sequenced or cloned into a TA vector and sequenced using vector primers. The BLAST searches (v. 126.96.36.199) of these sequences most closely matched the sequences of the WWB phytoplasma and other members of the 16SrIII group (peach X-disease). The closest matches for the full P1/P7 sequence from the Japanese walnut (GenBank Accession No. HQ221553, 1,814 bp) were with those of phytoplasmas associated with WWB from two black walnut trees in Georgia (AF190227, 1,812 of 1,815 bp matching; and AF190226, 1,808 of 1,815 bp matching), spiraea stunt (AF190228, 1,808 of 1,814 bp), and western X (AF533231, 1,807 of 1,814 bp). The iPhyClassifier restriction fragment length polymorphism similarity coefficient was 0.99 for L33733 (Canadian peach X phytoplasma) and 0.98 for AF190226. Sequence HQ221553 differed by 10 bp from the sequence from the asymptomatic black walnut tree that was 100 m away (HQ221554, 1,815 bp), which matched closest to one of the black walnut samples from Georgia (AF190227, 1,807 of 1,816 bp). A 1,029-bp fragment from the second black walnut tree (10 m away) differed by 1 or 2 bp from the Georgia WWB accessions. To our knowledge, this is the first report of WWB symptoms in Iowa and the first identification of the WWB phytoplasma outside of Georgia (1). The disease, however, is more widely known (Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio) and may cause serious reduction in nut production (1–3). It can be lethal to Juglans spp., especially to exotic species such as Japanese walnut (2,3). The native black walnut is thought to be relatively resistant to tolerant of WWB (2,3) and may only show growth decline with no symptoms, except for broom production from cut surfaces (3). Care should be taken in moving planting stock of black walnut (4) because asymptomatic trees may harbor the phytoplasma.
References: (1) J. Chen et al. Plant Dis. 76:1116, 1992. (2) C. E. Seliskar. For. Sci. 22:144, 1976. (3) W. A. Sinclair et al. Diseases of Trees and Shrubs. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1987. (4) L. Ward. Juglans (Walnut). Post-Entry Quarantine Testing Manual. Biosecurity New Zealand, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Auckland, 2008.
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