Leyland cypress (× Hesperotropsis leylandii) is a fast-growing conifer used in most temperate regions as an ornamental tree for hedges and screens, and is one of the most commercially important trees in Europe. In recent years, severe diebacks and mortality due to cypress canker have been observed on Leyland cypress plantations in Southern Europe. This study was conducted to evaluate (i) the spread and impact of cypress canker caused by Seiridium cardinale in plantations of a sample area of 1,250 km2 in central Italy, (ii) the response of the most commonly grown Leyland cypress varieties to artificial inoculation with to S. cardinal, and (iii) the pathogenicity of S. cardinale isolates obtained from Leyland cypress. Of the 1,411 surveyed trees, 11.4% had been killed by cypress canker and 43.9% of the living trees were affected by the disease. The number of diseased or dead trees and the percentage of cankered trunks was significantly correlated with the mean trunk diameter of the plantations. Six months after inoculation, the size of developed cankers was significantly different among the inoculated Leyland cypress cultivars but all of them showed markedly larger cankers than the C. sempervirens canker-resistant control clone. All of the tested S. cardinale isolates obtained from Leyland cypress also caused cankers on Cupressus sempervirens when inoculated as conidial suspensions or mycelia. Leyland cypress is highly prone to contract cypress canker in the Mediterranean due to its high susceptibility to S. cardinale infections, low genetic variability among the grown cultivars, and cracks which form on fast-growing trunks, favoring entry of the fungus into the inner bark and the occurrence of infections.
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