Euphorbia tithymaloides (Euphorbiaceae; known as ‘Jacob's ladder,’ ‘Devil's Backbone’) is a perennial, succulent spurge, grown primarily as a border plant in ornamental landscapes. In June 2011 and February 2012, the California Department of Food and Agriculture Plant Pest Diagnostics Lab, Sacramento, CA, received an unusual powdery mildew sample on greenhouse-grown E. tithymaloides from a Ventura County, CA nursery. Disease incidence at the nursery was 100%. White mycelial patches were present on the stems and on both sides of the leaves. Over time, heavily infected branches defoliated and brownish, roughened, scabby lesions developed on the stems. Hyphae were thin-walled, up to 8 μm wide and developed nipple-shaped appressoria. Ellipsoid-ovoid conidia measured 21.0 to 32.5 × 13 to 18 μm (avg. 26.4 × 13.9 μm, n = 20) and formed in chains. The rDNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region was amplified with primers PFITS-F and PF5.8-R (4). The 387-bp sequence (GenBank JX006103) was 99% similar (346/347 bp) to Podosphaera euphorbia-hirtae (AB040306) from Acalypha australis (Euphorbiaceae) (3). Based on ITS similarity and culture morphology, the fungus was identified as P. euphorbiae-hirtae U. Braun & Somani (1,3). Pathogenicity was confirmed through inoculation by gently pressing diseased leaves from the nursery onto the youngest leaves of three plants each of E. tithymaloides cultivars ‘Nano’ and ‘Variegated.’ Leaves of an equal number of control plants were pressed with healthy leaves. Plants were incubated in a dew chamber for 48 h after which they were transferred to a 22°C growth chamber with a 12-h photoperiod. The experiment was repeated once. White powdery mildew colonies formed after 7 days on ‘Variegated’ and 13 days on ‘Nano’. Conidia measured 27.5 to 35.0 × 11 to 15 μm (avg. 30.5 × 12.6 μm, n = 30) which was within the range of P. euphorbia-hirtae. No symptoms developed on the control plants. P. euphorbiae-hirtae has been reported in Asia and the UK on E. tithymaloides and in Asia on A. australis (2). An asexual Oidium stage on Euphorbiaceae in Asia, Africa, Australia, Florida, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the U.S. Virgin Islands may correspond to P. euphorbiae-hirtae (2). To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. euphorbiae-hirtae in California. Following the 2011 and 2012 detections, all E. tithymaloides plants in the Ventura County, CA nursery were destroyed. A regulatory trace back survey found that the plants were shipped from a Florida supplier, which was also shown to have an outbreak of P. euphorbiae-hirtae. The original source of the Florida E. tithymaloides plants was a 2010 shipment from Costa Rica. The host range of P. euphorbiae-hirtae is restricted to three landscape species in the Euphorbiaceae.
References: (1) U. Braun. Beih. Nova Hedwigia 89:143, 1987. (2) D. F. Farr and A. Y. Rossman. Fungal Databases, Systematic Mycology and Microbiology Laboratory, ARS, USDA. Retrieved from http://nt.ars-grin.gov/fungaldatabases/index.cfm May 1, 2012. (3) T. Hirata. et al. Can. J. Bot. 78:1521, 2000. (4) R. Singh et al. Plant Dis. 93:1348, 2009.