Phytophthora infestans is known worldwide as the destructive, late blight pathogen of potatoes and tomatoes. However, erratic reports dating back to 1856 also have shown it to be pathogenic on petunia (Petunia × hybrida), although it has not been regarded as an important pathogen on this host (4). Recently, reports from North America showed that P. infestans is of commercial importance in greenhouse-grown petunias (2), and that late blight-infected petunias may serve as inoculum to tomatoes growing in the same greenhouse (1,2). In the Western Cape Province of South Africa, two petunia samples were received at the Stellenbosch University Plant Disease Clinic in 2005 that showed symptoms resembling P. infestans infections. The two samples were from nurseries where petunias were either grown under shading nets or in a greenhouse. In the greenhouse-grown petunias, the presumptive late blight infections resulted in substantial losses to the grower. Symptoms included gray, slightly sunken leaf lesions with white sporulation mainly on the adaxial side of the leaves. Leaflets of the petunias were incubated in moist chambers, and sporangia sporulating from lesions were identified morphologically as being P. infestans (3). Subsequently, one isolate was cultured onto synthetic media by carefully transferring sporangia from a lesion with the tip of a bended glass rod onto wheat medium (120 g/L of crushed wheat seeds, blended, boiled and filtered through cheesecloth, plus 15 g of sucrose and agar). The identity of the culture was further confirmed through sequence analyses of the internal transcribed spacer regions (GenBank Accession No. DQ479409). The isolated P. infestans strain (STE-U 6134) has been submitted to the Stellenbosch University culture collection. Inoculum for the pathogenicity tests was produced by first flooding 14-day-old cultures with sterile distilled water to obtain a 2 × 104/ml sporangial suspension, followed by zoospore induction at 4°C. A mixture of petunia cultivars (n = 24) were spray inoculated to runoff with the zoospore induced sporangial suspension. Control plants were sprayed with sterile distilled water. Inoculated plants were incubated at 22 to 25°C and high relative humidity (≥93%) within perspex humidity chambers (60 × 30 × 60 cm) lined with a wet sheet of chromatography paper. The experiment was repeated twice. The first late blight symptoms similar to those of the submitted samples appeared 5 to 7 days after inoculation, with some lesions containing profuse white mycelia and sporangiophores typical for P. infestans. The pathogen was reisolated from the leaf lesions, completing Koch's postulate. To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. infestans causing damage on petunias in South Africa. Future studies should be aimed at investigating whether late blight-infected petunias provide an important source of inoculum for potatoes and tomatoes, which are widely grown in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
References: (1) M. C. Becktell et al. Plant Dis. 89:1000, 2005. (2) K. L. Deahl and D. K. Farel. Plant Dis. 87:1004, 2003. (3) D. C. Erwin and O. K. Ribeiro, Phytophthora Diseases Worldwide. The American Phytopathological Society St. Paul, MN, 1996. (4) J. M. Hirst and W. C. Moore. Phytophthora infestans on petunia and datura. Page 76 in: Plant Pathology-A Record of Current Work on Plant Diseases and Pests. Vol. 6. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Plant Pathology Laboratory, Harpenden, England, 1957.