In recent years, a leaf blight disease, consisting of browned, desiccated leaves occurring mainly in the lower parts of the canopy, has been observed during wet springs on Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) in western Washington and Oregon. In May 2009 and 2011, severe outbreaks occurred and symptomatic leaves from madrones growing in the region were sampled to determine the causal agent. Two symptoms, leaf necrosis or blotching along the edges and tips of the leaves, and leaf spot, were observed. Small segments of diseased tissue were cut from the leaves, surface-disinfected, rinsed, and plated on malt extract agar. Fifty percent of the leaf blotch and 30% of leaf spot samples yielded a fungus that was fast-growing (20 mm diameter in 4 days at 25°C) and produced colonies that were a pale gray with dark gray reverse and a felty texture. On potato dextrose agar (PDA), pycnidia formed and exuded conidia in peach-colored droplets after 2 weeks under room temperature and light conditions. Pycnidia were spherical and 12.5 to 39.8 μm, average 24.2 μm in diameter. Conidia were hyaline, ovoid, and 5.8 to 8.5 × 3.1 to 4.7 μm (average 7.0 × 3.7 μm). The fungus was identified as Phacidiopycnis washingtonensis based on its morphology (1). To confirm the identity, the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the rDNA was amplified with ITS1/ITS4 primers (2) and sequenced (GenBank Accession Nos. JQ743784 to 86). BLAST analysis showed 100% nucleotide identity with those of P. washingtonensis in GenBank (AY608648). The fungus was also isolated from lesions on green shoots and the petiole and leaf blade of dead attached leaves. To test pathogenicity, 3-year-old Pacific madrone seedlings (three for each isolate) were inoculated with five isolates of the fungus and maintained in the greenhouse (25°C); the experiment was conducted twice. Five leaves from each tree were cold injured (–50°C) at a marked 5 × 5 mm2 area with a commercial aerosol tissue freezing product prior to inoculation and five leaves were not cold injured. A 5-mm-diameter mycelial plug cut from the margin of 6-day-old PDA culture was applied to the marked areas on the upper leaf surface. The inoculated area was covered with moist cheese cloth and wrapped with Parafilm. Leaves treated with blank PDA plugs served as control. Leaves were enclosed in plastic bags to maintain moisture for the first 15 h post inoculation and cheese cloths were removed after 15 days. All cold-injured inoculated leaves showed symptoms of blight starting at 2 weeks after inoculation, and no symptoms appeared on the controls. On non-cold injured inoculated leaves, only one isolate caused symptoms (80% of all leaves). The fungus was re-isolated from diseased leaves. These results suggest that P. washingtonensis is able to cause foliar blight on Pacific madrone when leaves are subjected to cold stress. Increased disease severity on madrone observed in spring 2011 in Washington and Oregon may have been due to predisposition of foliage to extreme cold in November 2010 and February 2011. This fungus has previously been reported to cause a postharvest fruit rot disease on apple fruit and a canker and twig dieback disease of apple and crabapple trees in WA (1). To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. washingtonensis causing a leaf blight disease on Pacific madrone in North America.
References: (1) C. L. Xiao et al. Mycologia 97:464, 2005. (2) T. J. White et al. Page 315 in: PCR Protocols: A Guide to Methods and Applications. Academic Press, San Diego, 1990.
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