- Author: Steven T. Koike
Beginning in early April, 2012, the UC Cooperative Extension diagnostic lab in Salinas began to receive lettuce samples exhibiting obvious symptoms of a virus problem. Samples continued to be submitted throughout the month. All samples tested positive for the thrips-vectored Impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV). This virus first began to cause damage to California lettuce in 2006. Since that time, INSV has occurred to a greater or lesser degree every season. However, significant INSV outbreaks usually are found beginning in late May or early June. Seeing INSV on lettuce in April is therefore unusual and growers and pest control advisors should carefully monitor these situations.
INSV-infected plants have leaves with brown to dark brown spots and dead (necrotic) areas; this necrotic tissue can resemble burn damage caused by pesticide or fertilizer applications (see photos below). Affected leaves can be distorted and twisted. Extensive necrosis can cause much of the leaf to become brown, dry, and dead. Some leaf yellowing can also be observed. Yellowing and the brown spotting tend to be observed on the newer leaves near the center of the plant’s growing point. If plants are affected with INSV early in their development, growth may be stunted. All lettuce types are susceptible, and INSV has been confirmed on iceberg, butterhead, romaine, and leaf lettuces. INSV can infect many other crops and weed species; the virus is vectored by the Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis).
Growers, PCAs, and other field personnel should exercise caution in diagnosing INSV disease because the lettuce dieback viruses cause very similar symptoms (see table below). Lettuce dieback is caused by two pathogens: Lettuce necrotic stunt virus (LNSV) and Tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV). Infected lettuce can be severely stunted, especially if infected early in plant development. The oldest, outer leaves can be severely yellowed. Brown, necrotic spots and lesions later develop in these outer leaves. The younger, inner leaves remain dark green in color, but can be rough and leathery. LNSV/TBSV infects only romaine, butterhead, and leaf lettuces; modern cultivars of iceberg lettuce are immune. The LNSV/TBSV virus complex is a soilborne problem and no vector (insect, nematode, fungus) is known to spread these viruses.
Photos: Impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV) on lettuce.