Phormium colensoi Hook.f. (syn. P. cookianum), New Zealand flax, (family Xanthorrhoeaceae) is popular in ornamental landscapes in the United States because of its sturdy blade-like foliage available in diverse colors. In February 2012, the Oregon State University Plant Clinic received three potted plants of P. colensoi ‘Black Adder’ from a commercial nursery in Santa Cruz County, California. The margins and midribs of several leaves had brown lesions that were variable in size, and fusiform to ellipsoidal in shape. Embedded in the lesions were black acervuli without setae that exuded salmon-colored spore masses under moist conditions. Conidia were hyaline, cylindrical to fusiform, straight to slightly curved, and 22.4 to 35.2 × 4.0 to 6.4 (average 24.7 × 4.9) μm. Based on morphology, the fungus was confirmed by USDA-APHIS National Identification Services to be Colletotrichum phormii (Henn.) D.F. Farr & Rossman (2). In March 2012, the California Department of Food and Agriculture Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab received additional samples from the same nursery lot (25% disease incidence) from which a similar fungus was recovered. rDNA sequences of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region from the California isolate (GenBank KC122681), amplified using primers ITS1 and ITS4 (2), were 100% identical to multiple species of Colletotrichum, including C. phormii by a BLAST query (JQ948446 through JQ948453). ITS sequence similarity alone is not sufficient to address Colletotrichum taxonomy and must be used in combination with host range and morphology (1). Pathogenicity of C. phormii (isolate CDFA986) was tested on three ‘Black Adder’ plants, which were inoculated with 6-mm agar plugs from a 14-day-old culture grown on half strength potato dextrose agar (PDA). Leaves were wound-inoculated along the midrib using colonized plugs (4). Five leaves per plant were inoculated with C. phormii plugs and five leaves per plant were treated with uncolonized PDA agar plugs as controls. Plants were sprayed with water and incubated in plastic bags at 22°C with a 12-h photoperiod. After 48 h, the bags and caps were removed and plants were kept under the same conditions. Two weeks later, water-soaked lesions had developed on the inoculated leaves. Lesions expanded along the midrib and became fusiform in shape after 21 to 28 days. C. phormii was isolated from lesion margins of all the inoculated leaves, but not from control leaves. This experiment was repeated once with similar results. Another Colletotrichum species, C. gloeosporiodes, also occurs on Phormium spp., but differs from C. phormii in morphology and symptom expression. Subsequent nursery and landscape surveys showed that anthracnose caused by C. phormii occurs on several P. colensoi cultivars as well as on P. tenax in five California counties including Santa Cruz, Yolo, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, and Solano. C. phormii is also reported to infect P. colensoi and P. tenax in New Zealand, Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa (2,3). To our knowledge, this is the first report of C. phormii causing anthracnose on Phormium in North America. This disease could impact the American nursery trade and New Zealand flax production due to crop loss and increased production costs for pest management.
References: (1) J. Crouch et al. Mycologia 101:648, 2009. (2) D. F. Farr et al. Mycol. Res. 110:1395, 2006. (3). H. Golzar and C. Wang. Australas. Plant Pathol. 5:110, 2010. (4) L. E. Yakabe et al. Plant Dis. 93:883, 2009.