The soilborne fungus Sclerotinia minor Jagger is a major pathogen of peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) in North Carolina and overwinters in soil, on crop debris, or on winter annual weed species (1). Bleached stems and small, black sclerotia are typically seen on peanut plants infected by S. minor. Carolina geranium (Geranium carolinianum L.) is one of several winter annual weed species found during winter fallow in peanut production areas of northeastern North Carolina. During a March 2002 survey of previously harvested peanut fields, plants of Carolina geranium were observed with typical signs and symptoms of infection caused by S. minor. Symptomatic plants with bleached stems and signs of small, black sclerotia were collected in the field and returned to the laboratory. Pathogen isolation and fungal identification were performed from the symptomatic tissues by placing 1- to 2-cm sections of stems on potato dextrose agar after rinsing with tap water and towel drying. Pure cultures of S. minor were obtained and observed to have white, fluffy mycelium and small, black irregular-shaped sclerotia (<2 mm) produced abundantly and scattered over the culture surface. Pathogenicity was tested by inoculating stems of three symptom-free Carolina geranium plants with 2-day-old fungal mycelium from pure isolation. Mycelial agar plugs, 4 mm in diameter, were held in place with self-sticking bandaging gauze. Plants were misted, enclosed in plastic bags, and incubated at ambient temperature (24°C) on the laboratory counter top. Bleached water-soaked lesions developed on the stems, and leaves became chlorotic after 8 days. Following 8 days of incubation, S. minor was reisolated from all inoculated plants. Three noninoculated plants remained healthy over the incubation period. The performance of Koch's postulates confirmed that Carolina geranium is a host of S. minor. To our knowledge, this is the first report of S. minor on G. carolinianum. These results indicate that G. carolinianum is a potential overwintering host for S. minor in peanut fields. Infected weed hosts allow reproduction of the fungus in the winter, potentially resulting in more disease on peanut planted in the spring.
Reference: (1) J. E. Hollowell et al. Plant Dis. 87:197, 2003.