American chestnuts (Castanea dentata), effectively eliminated from eastern North America by chestnut blight in the twentieth century, are the subject of multiple restoration efforts. Screening individual trees (or tree types) for blight resistance is a critical step in all of these programs. Traditional screening involves inoculating stems of >3-year-old trees with the blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), then measuring resulting cankers a few months later. A quicker, nondestructive, quantitative assay, usable on younger plants, would enhance restoration efforts by speeding the screening process. The assay presented here meets these requirements by inoculating excised leaves with the blight fungus and measuring resulting necrotic lesions. Leaves can be collected from few-month-old seedlings or fully mature trees, and results are measured after less than a week. Leaves from several lines of both American and Chinese chestnuts were inoculated, as well as the congener Allegheny chinquapin, and experimental leaf assay results correlate well with stem assay results from these species. Inoculations with virulent and hypovirulent blight fungi strains also showed relative patterns similar to traditional inoculations. Given the correlations to established stem assay results, this procedure could be a valuable tool to quickly evaluate blight resistance in American chestnut trees used for restoration.
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