Skimmia japonica, an evergreen flowering shrub, is becoming increasingly popular as a potted ornamental plant in northern Italy and represents 5% of acidophilous plant production; cv. Rubella accounts for 99% of production. During the spring of 2003, in many commercial nurseries located in northwestern Italy, plants of S. japonica cv. Rubella showed extensive chlorosis and root rot, and diseased plants eventually wilted and died without dropping leaves. The disease was widespread and severe, and in some nurseries, 40% of plants were affected. A Phytophthora-like organism was isolated consistently from infected lower stem and root pieces of S. japonica that had been disinfested for 1 min in 1% NaOCl and plated on a medium selective for oomycetes (2). The pathogen was identified based on morphological and physiological features as Phytophthora nicotianae (= P. parasitica ). The sporangia produced on V8 medium were ± spherical to obpyriform, obturbinate, papillate, and measured 33 to 94 × 25 to 48 μm (average 56.4 × 36.8 μm). Papillae measured 3.5 to 19 μm (average 7.8 μm). Chlamydospores were spherical with a diameter ranging from 26 to 32 μm (average 29.2 μm). Pathogenicity of four isolates obtained from infected plants was confirmed by inoculating 9-month-old plants of S. japonica cv. Rubella grown in 1-liter pots containing a substrate based on sphagnum peatmoss, pine bark, and clay (70-20-10% vol/vol/vol). Inocula, which consisted of 90-mm-diameter V8 agar disks per pot containing mycelium of each isolate, were introduced and mixed into the substrate in all pots before transplanting. One plant was transplanted into each pot and served as a replicate, and noninoculated plants served as controls. Eight replicates were used for each isolate and the control treatment, and the trial was repeated. All plants were kept outside at temperatures ranging from 16 to 38°C (average temperature 27°C). Inoculated plants developed symptoms of chlorosis, root rot, and wilt within 20 days, while control plants remained symptomless. P. nicotianae consistently was isolated from inoculated plants. Previously, P. nicotianae has been reported on S. japonica in Poland (3). To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. nicotianae on S. japonica in Italy.
References: (1) D. C. Erwin and O. K. Ribeiro. Phytophthora Diseases Worldwide. The American Phytopathological Society, St Paul, MN, 1996. (2) H. Masago et al. Phytopathology, 67:425, 1977 (3) G. Szkuta and L. B. Orlikowski. Prog. Plant Prot. 42:808, 2002.