Saponaria officinalis (Vize) Simmons (common name bouncingbet) is a low maintenance perennial plant belonging to the Caryophyllaceae family, typically grown in parks and gardens. During the summers of 2011 and 2012, extensive necrosis were observed on leaves of plants grown in private gardens, near Biella (northern Italy). The disease affected 90% of 1- to 2-year-old plants. The first symptoms were usually pale brown lesions 1 to 5 mm in diameter and sometimes coalesced. Lesions were circular to irregular with a dark purple halo, with infected leaves eventually turning chlorotic. The conidia observed on infected leaves were olivaceous brown and obclavate, with a beak. Conidia showed 8 to 15 (average 12) transverse and 4 to 14 (average 11) longitudinal septa, with slight constrictions connected with septa, and were 78.3 to 177.7 (average 135.5) × 19.0 to 34.3 (average 26.5) μm. The beak was 20.0 to 62.2 (average 33.7) μm in length, with 0 to 6 (average 3) transverse septa and no longitudinal septa. The fungus was consistently isolated from infected leaves on potato dextrose agar (PDA). The isolate, grown for 14 days at 20 to 24°C with 10 h of darkness and 14 h of light on sterilized host leaves plated on PDA, produced conidiophores single, unbranched, flexuous, septate with conidia in short chains, similar to those observed on the leaves and previously described. On the basis of its morphological characteristics, the pathogen was identified as Alternaria sp. (3). DNA was extracted using Nucleospin Plant Kit (Macherey Nagel) and PCR carried out using ITS 1/ITS 4 primer (4). A 542-bp PCR product was sequenced and a BLASTn search confirmed that the sequence corresponded to A. dianthi (AY154702), recently renamed A. nobilis (2). The nucleotide sequence has been assigned the GenBank Accession No. JX647848. Pathogenicity tests were performed by spraying leaves of healthy 3-month-old plants of S. officinalis with an aqueous 2 × 105 spore/ml suspension. The inoculum was obtained from cultures of the fungus grown on PDA amended with host leaves for 14 days, in light-dark, at 22 ± 1°C. Plants sprayed only with water served as controls. Four pots (1 plant/pot) were used for each treatment. Plants were covered with plastic bags for 4 days after inoculation and maintained in a glasshouse at 21 ± 1 °C. Lesions developed on leaves 9 days after inoculation with the spore suspension, whereas control plants remained healthy. A. nobilis was consistently reisolated from these lesions. The pathogenicity test was carried out twice. The presence of A. dianthi was reported on S. officinalis in Denmark (1) and Turkey. This is, to our knowledge, the first report of A. nobilis on S. officinalis in Italy. The presence and importance of this disease is, at present, limited.
References: (1) P. Neergaard. Danish species of Alternaria and Stemphylium. Oxford University Press, 1945. (2) E. G. Simmons. Mycotaxon 82:7, 2002. (3) E. G. Simmons. Alternaria: An Identification Manual. CBS Biodiversity Series 6, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 2007. (4) T. J. White et al. In: PCR Protocols: A Guide to Methods and Applications. M. A. Innis et al., eds. Academic Press, San Diego, 1990.