Aquilegia flabellata (Ranunculaceae), fan columbine, is a perennial herbaceous plant with brilliant blue-purple flowers with white petal tips that is largely present in gardens. It can also be grown for cut flower production. In September of 2008 and 2009, in a private garden located near Biella (northern Italy), a leaf blight was observed. Leaves of infected plants showed extensive, irregular, brown, necrotic lesions, which were slightly sunken with a well-defined border and surrounded by a violet-brown halo. A hole frequently appeared in the center of dried tissues. Lesions, initially measuring 0.5 mm, later expanded up to 15 mm in diameter and eventually coalesced to cover the entire leaf, which curled without falling. At a later stage, stems were also affected, causing death of the apical part of the plant. The disease affected 90% of the plants in the garden. Dark brown, subglobose pycnidia, 116 to 145 μm, containing light gray, ellipsoid, nonseptate conidia measuring 9.0 to 16.2 × 2.6 to 4.2 (average 12.7 × 3.4) μm were observed on symptomatic tissue. On the basis of these morphological characteristics, the fungus was related to the genus Phoma (2). Diseased tissue was excised from the margin of lesions, rinsed in sterile distilled water, and then cultured on potato dextrose agar (PDA) medium at 23 ± 1°C under alternating daylight and darkness (12-h light and 12-h dark). Fungal colonies produced a pale olive green, lightly floccose mycelium, generating clusters of dark olive green swollen cells. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of rDNA was amplified using the primers ITS4/ITS6 and sequenced. BLAST analysis (1) of the 504-bp segment showed 100% homology with a sequence of Phoma aquilegiicola (GenBank Accession No. GU237735). The nucleotide sequence of our isolate was assigned GenBank Accession No. HM222537. Pathogenicity tests were performed by spraying a mycelium suspension of a homogenate of mycelium (1 × 105 mycelial fragments per ml) obtained from 15-day-old PDA cultures of the fungus on leaves of six healthy 6-month-old potted A. flabellata plants. Six plants inoculated with a homogenate of PDA served as controls. Plants were maintained in a greenhouse in a high humidity chamber for 7 days after inoculation at 23 ± 1°C and under high relative humidity conditions (70 to 90%). The first foliar lesions developed on leaves 4 days after inoculation. After 15 days, 80% of the leaves were severely infected. Control plants remained healthy. The organism reisolated on PDA from leaf lesions was identical in morphology to the isolate used for inoculation. The pathogenicity test was carried out twice. To our knowledge, this is the first report of the presence of P. aquilegiicola on A. flabellata in Italy. Ascochyta aquilegiae (synonym P. aquilegiicola) has been reported on A. vulgaris in Germany (4) and Aquilegia spp. in the United States (3). Currently, the economic importance of this disease is limited, but may become a more significant problem if the use of A. flabellata in gardens increases.
References: (1) S. F. Altschul et al. Nucleic Acids Res. 25:3389, 1997. (2) G. H. Boerema et al. Phoma Identification Manual. Differentiation of Specific and Infra-Specific Taxa in Culture. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK, 2004. (3) D. F. Farr et al. Fungi on Plants and Plant Products in the United States. The American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN, 1989. (4) R. Laubert. Gartenwelt 34:621, 1930.