In May of 2008, samples of southern highbush blueberry (interspecific Vaccinium corymbosum hybrids) exhibiting marginal leaf necrosis were collected at a farm in Interlachen, FL. The cv. Star showed severe leaf scorch, partial defoliation, and a generally unthrifty growth structure of many thin twigs as has been observed in Georgia (1). The block of Star plants was approximately 10 years old and incidence of the disease was 100%. The grower reported the planting had become increasingly unproductive in the most recent 4 to 5 years. Plants of the cv. Windsor also showed scorch symptoms and yellow-to-red discoloration of leaves. Proportionally fewer Windsor plants showed disease symptoms than Star plants and the disease was not as severe on this cultivar on the basis of visual estimates at the time. Each sample consisted of 5 to 10 cuttings of spring wood with attached leaves showing marginal necrosis taken from a single plant. Three samples, two from Star plants and one from a Windsor plant, were divided into two subsamples each. One subsample was submitted to Agdia for Xylella fastidiosa double-antibody sandwich (DAS)-ELISA assay (TSE XF; Agdia Inc., Elkhart IN). All three samples were reported as positive for X. fastidiosa by DAS-ELISA. A number of asymptomatic plants from this farm and other additional farms were tested in the same manner and results were negative. The other subsample was used for isolation of the causal bacterium. Petioles and main veins from symptomatic leaves were surface disinfested in 1% sodium hypochlorite, cut into segments (0.5 cm), and squeezed with forceps or pliers. Sap that exuded from the segment was blotted directly onto periwinkle wilt medium (2). Bacterial colonies consistent in morphology with X. fastidiosa that were DAS-ELISA positive were obtained from all three samples. One isolate from each sample was inoculated into four Star plants each with the pin-pricking method (3). Leaf scorch symptoms were first observed 8 weeks after inoculation. By 12 weeks after inoculation, all plants inoculated with the three isolates had developed symptoms, including defoliation. Plants inoculated without bacteria showed no symptoms. X. fastidiosa was reisolated from symptomatic plants. Bacterial leaf scorch is an important emerging disease that threatens the southern highbush blueberry industry in the south. On certain cultivars like Star, the potential to reduce yield appears to be great. Differences between cultivars are likely, but have not yet been explored. Additional research is needed into the epidemiology of the disease and potential vectors of pathogen transmission.
References: (1) C. Chang et al. HortScience 44:413, 2009. (2) M. Davis et al. Curr. Microbiol. 6:309, 1981. (3) D. L. Hopkins et al. Phytopathology 75:713, 1985.