During a survey in the spring of 1997, sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) plants with characteristic symptoms (stunting and veinal chlorosis of leaves) of downy mildew caused by Plasmopara helianthi Novot. were observed in two experimental fields in the central Italian region of Umbria. In the first field, used to evaluate 58 commercial sunflower hybrids, fewer than 1% of plants displayed typical downy mildew symptoms. In a second field, planted with the old susceptible cultivar Ala, disease incidence was 12%. The inoculum of P. helianthi (one isolate from each field) was obtained either from downy mildew-infected leaves or infested soil (from around the roots of diseased plants). All were collected according to a random distribution. From this collection, two isolates were identified as race 2 by the whole-seedling immersion technique (2) with differential cultivars: HA 89, AD 66, CM 90 RR, RHA 265, RHA 274, HIR 34, DM-2, and HA 335. All differential lines were tested twice with 30 seeds per replicate (four replicates per line). Two weeks after inoculation the percentage of susceptible seedlings (showing sporulation on cotyledons and/or first true leaves) was determined. Race 2 has long occurred in some European countries, but this is the first report of this race from Italy. Extensive field surveys carried out in the last 10 years revealed that race 1 is the only one occurring in central Italy. An isolate apparently comparable to race 2 was reported in experimental plots in 1975 (1) where only Pl1 cultivars were susceptible. Differential lines, at that time, were not available and race identification was not carried out. Italy imposes importation regulations for sunflower seed that include treatment with metalaxyl. In greenhouse trials we have not observed a reduction in sensitivity to this systemic fungicide used as seed treatment against P. helianthi race 2. Consequently, the susceptibility of some commercial hybrids, indicated as resistant to downy mildew by importers, could be attributed to irregularity in the production of seeds. Also, an insufficient seed dressing with metalaxyl does not completely control the pathogen.
References: (1) M. D'Armini et al. Atti Giornate Fitopatol. 1:659, 1975. (2) T. J. Gulya et al. Helia 14:11, 1991.