Mulberry (Morus alba L.) is an important cash crop and medicinal plant that has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years in China. The area of mulberry production in Guangxi Province is 45% of total production in China, with 1.3 million ha planted. In recent years, a mulberry root rot occurred in Heng County covering all the mulberry planting farms. Observations of 200 diseased plants were made. The xylem of infected roots first turned brown, and then became black followed by cortex rot. The xylem and cortex of infected roots were easily separated. The xylem of the stem of symptomatic plants was also brown and the bark was slightly darker than normal. Leaves of diseased plants turned yellow and wilted, but the wilted leaves remained on the affected branches for about 3 weeks. All affected branches and stem dried after a month. The affected area was 12,000 ha with incidences varying from 13 to 52%. About 8% of young mulberry trees died in severely infested orchards. The disease caused more than $3 million in losses within a year in Heng County alone. The causal fungus was isolated from xylem tissues of symptomatic roots of 62 mulberry plants with an isolation rate of 90%. Pathogenicity test was made by inoculating 5-month-old healthy mulberry plants with PDA plugs (5 × 5 mm) grown 5 days with viable mycelia of the fungus. Nine healthy plants were wounded on the roots with a sterile knife, and mycelial plugs of three Lasiodiplodia theobromae (Pat.) Griffon & Maubl isolates were placed on the wounds, covered with sterile moist cotton, and wrapped with Parafilm. Nine control plants were treated with PDA plugs. The test was repeated three times. All treated plants were kept in a greenhouse at ~28°C and 40% RH. After 3 days, the root xylem of inoculated plants turned brown and gradually became dark, similar to symptoms observed in the field. After 8 days, inoculated seedlings gradually wilted, and all the treated plants died after 11 days with leaves undetached. The fungus was re-isolated from all nine diseased plants and no symptoms were observed on the roots of control plants. The causal agent, of which conidia were dark brown, one-septate, thick walled, and ellipsoid with 4 or 6 vertical lines of dashes, 12.50 to 13.75 × 13.75 to 25.63 μm (n = 100), was identified as L. theobromae based on morphological characters described by Punithalingam (3) and sequences of the ITS region of rDNA using primers ITS1 and ITS4 and EF1-α using primers EF728F and EF986R. The ITS sequence (HG917932) was similar to the ITS sequences of AY640255 (CBS164.96) and AY236952 (CMW9074) in GenBank with identities of 98.8 and 99.8%, respectively. The EF1-α sequence HG917934 was similar to that of AY640258 (CBS164.96) and AY236901 (CMW9074) with identities of 99.7 and 99.7%, respectively. L. theobromae is a cosmopolitan fungus causing both field and storage diseases on more than 280 plant species including crops, fruits, and cash fruit trees (1,2,5). Mulberry root rot caused by L. theobromae has been reported in India (4) and ours is the first report in China. This finding clarifies the pathogen of mulberry root rot previously thought as Fusarium sp. in China, which is critical to develop management strategies to control this disease.
References: (1) N. M. Celiker and T. J. Michailides. New Dis. Rep. 25:12, 2012. (2) I. H. Fischer et al. Australia Plant Dis. Notes 3:116, 2008. (3) E. Punithalingam. Botryodiplodia theobromae. CMI Descriptions of Pathogenic Fungi and Bacteria No. 519. CAB International, Wallingford, UK, 1976. (4) N. V. Radhakrishnan et al. Indian Phytopathol. 48:490, 1995. (5) B. C. Sutton. The Coelomycetes. Commonwealth Mycology Institute, Kew, Surrey, England, 1980.
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