White alder (Alnus rhombifolia) is a fast-growing tree native to the western United States and is planted frequently in landscapes. In September 2010, mature leaves of white alder with small, orange-yellow pustules were collected in a commercial nursery in Santa Cruz County, CA. Approximately 25 white alder trees were affected. Collected leaves were sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Plant Pest Diagnostics Laboratory. Young uredinial pustules were bullate, with urediniospores emerging from a single pore in the pustule. Spiny cells lined the ostiole. With age, pustules broke open to release more spores. Urediniospores were obovate to oval and measured from 14 to 20 × 27 to 41 μm (17.1 × 32.2 μm average, n = 62). Spores were uniformly echinulate and contained a nearly hyaline cell wall measuring from 1 to 2 μm (1.5 μm average) in thickness. A portion of the 28S ribosomal subunit (GenBank Accession No. KC313888) and the internal transcribed spacer regions (KC313889) were amplified and sequenced from DNA extracted from urediniospores using primers LR6 and rust2inv (1) and ITS1-F and ITS4-B (2), respectively. Our ITS sequence had 99% identity to GenBank accession EF564164, Melampsoridium hiratsukanum. In September 2011, white alder leaves with similar symptoms were collected from a commercial nursery in Santa Barbara County, CA. The spore morphology matched the white alder sample previously collected in Santa Cruz County, CA, in 2010. At that time, pathogenicity assays were conducted on three 1-year-old, 61-cm white alder trees planted in 3.8-liter pots. Six detached leaves with visible rust pustules were rubbed gently onto both the apical and distal side of moistened leaves of the healthy alders. Each infected leaf was used to inoculate a total of 6 to 10 healthy leaves by rubbing two leaves per tree before moving to the next tree. Leaves on three additional white alder trees were rubbed with healthy leaves as controls. Trees were incubated in a dew chamber for 3 days in darkness at 24°C, then placed in a growth chamber at 22°C with a 12-h photoperiod. Twelve days after inoculation, small lesions were visible on a few of the leaf undersides of each inoculated tree. Not all inoculated leaves developed pustules. No lesions developed on the control trees. M. hiratsukanum has been reported in Canada, Europe, and eastern Asia (3). There are no published reports of this rust in the United States, but there is an unpublished specimen from white alder in the USDA Systematic Mycology Herbarium (BPI 028048) collected from California in 1931, which was identified as M. hiratsukanum by G. B. Cummins using morphological criteria. We are unaware if older specimens of this rust exist because we were unable to search other herbaria in the United States. To the best of our knowledge, this rust has been present in California since 1931, but has only recently been found causing disease in nursery plants. There have been no reports of the serious foliar disease symptoms on trees in California wild lands as have been reported in Europe, presumably due to dry summer and fall seasons in white alder's natural habitat.
References: (1) M. C. Aime. Mycoscience 47:112, 2006. (2) M. Gardes and T. D. Bruns. Mol. Ecol. 2:113, 1993. (3) J. Hatula et al. Mycologia 101:622, 2009.
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