So Sphaeropsis tumefaciens causes galls, but it's also been noted to cause witches broom in citrus, as well. Thjs type of broom formation is a wild, though compact growth. It's a dense mass of shoot growth from a single point – a messy mass that even a witch would have a problem using to sweep up. This is a symptom of infection by certain fungi, like rust or mildew or a genetic mutation in the plant itself. If it's a stable genetic change that doesn't alter over time, it could be used in the horticultural trade to propagate dwarfing plants. That might be good in the case of citrus, meaning less pruning. There's already the ‘Flying Dragon' rootstock that causes dwarfing, but it has some problems, like being really slow growing.
Anyway, another cause of undisciplined broom growth is phytoplasma infection. These are bacteria-like organisms that were only discovered in the 1960s and cannot be cultured. This makes it hard to work with them. They can cause debilitating weaknesses in plants besides the broom growth. To complicate the culturing issue, it has a conspirator, which needs to be understood, as well. The phytoplasma is spread by an insect, the same way the Liberibacter bacteria is spread by Asian Citrus Psyllid, causing HLB. So it's necessary to know the biologies of two actors, plus how they interact. The problem of HLB, again.
In India and Iran, there is a crippling disease of lime caused by a phytoplasma that is spread by leafhoppers. You need the specific leafhopper to spread the phytoplasma to spread the disease. No leafhopper and it's unlikely that even if the phytoplasma were here, that it would get spread.
The internet is democratizing. It spreads all kinds of information equally to everyone. So an image comes across my computer, asking if I think the wild growth on the ‘Pixie' mandarin is this WBDL (Witches' Broom Disease of Lime). I don't think so, but you never know what is going to pop up. I was thinking it's probably Sphaeropsis on a new track, and whatever, need to check it out.
And there it is. The wild growth. It fills about a third of the canopy of the little tree.
There's even this flattened stem. Truly weird.
But something does not look right. Is it the phytoplasma causing other types of growth? The leaves don't look right. Citrus leaves have a central vein, with lateral veins. The leaves on the affected part of the tree only have a single mid-vein.
This is not a citrus growth deformity. This is some other plant. Following the stem of the deformed branch to the base of the trunk, there's the “sucker”. And it doesn't look like citrus bark.
This is not even a citrus plant. At some point, a myoporum seedling started growing there. The leaves are similar enough to citrus, that the grower thought it was a citrus branch than had become infected. Well, the myoporum did become ‘infected'. With what, I'm not sure. It could easily have been Sphaeropsis since it is in the Ojai area. Anyway, “when it doubt, cut it out”.
And here is the neat little tree, a third of it gone now and the interior exposed to sun so that it will need to be whitewashed to protect it from sun damage. But, it's not WBDL. This time. It's important to keep looking for what nature and hitchhikers can bring us. It could be a whole lot more serious.
There are always new things to see in the field. Some things show up on occasion, but reliably, like citrus leafminer starts damaging new leaves in the fall. You start to see the leaf spots from Persea mite in the fall, even though they started their nesting/feeding activities in the late spring. Then some things show up irregularly. There's a fungus that hits citrus and other plant species – oleander, bottlebrush, holly, Natal plum, Brazilian pepper, eucalyptus – but mostly landscape species.
Sphaeropsis tumefaciens pops up here and there, this year and then not for several years. I've only seen it in Ojai, but Craig Kallsen in Kern Co. says that it's not uncommon in Bakersfield backyard citrus. It creates knobby growths, galls or tumors along branches. I've seen it on mandarin (‘Pixie'), lemon, Valencia and ‘Late Navel'. Whenever I see it, I immediately think of glyphosate damage.
A lot of times, you can see twisted leaf growth coming out of the galls. Classic herbicide phytotoxicity symptoms. But symptoms are just that, they don't tell you what caused that symptom to happen. In the several cases I've, seen only one out five has been an orchard that used herbicides. So it wasn't a reaction to glyphosate that caused the unusual growths.
These woody growths take several years to form. They don't show up just after an herbicide spray. It probably take a few years for them to show up. It's not until someone is pruning that they probably notice the galls.
In fact, it might be the pruning that is spreading the spores that causes the infection. Moisture helps spread the fungus. Another reason not to prune citrus during the rainy season.
While looking through the literature, I came across a reference to galls forming in avocado caused by Sphaeropsis – this in Mexico, http://www.avocadosource.com/WAC2/WAC2_p129.pdf. I have seen symptoms like that here
Also causing a whole fruit to form a gall. Truly a bizarre sight
But of course, this is my speculation, since these symptoms have not been tested foe their cause, as far as I know.
What causes the symptoms in Mexico might be different in California.
How to treat these galls in citrus? Cut them out if you can, but in many cases they are right in the middle of a structural branch. It is desirable to get it out of the orchard to prevent its spread. With the limited experience we have with this disease, it doesn't seem to impair yield at the levels of infection i have seen.
Citrus: UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines
|Publication Number: 3441
Copyright Date: Rev. 2017
Length: 234 pp.
Inventory Type: PDF File
|This is a free publication if you access it as a web page or downloadable PDF document.
These official UC-approved guidelines for pest monitoring techniques, pesticide use, and nonpesticide alternatives for agricultural crops are essential tools for anyone making pest management decisions in the field. This 124-page guideline covers citrus fruit.
Updated August 2015.
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- Author: Joey Mayorquin, Mohamed Nouri, Florent Trouillas, Greg Douhan and Akif Eskalen
Recently, an outbreak of shoot and twig dieback disease of citrus has been occurring in the main citrus growing regions of the Central Valley of California (Fig 1). The causal agents of this disease were identified as species of Colletotrichum, which are well-known pathogens of citrus and other crops causing anthracnose diseases. At this time, it is unclear how wide-spread the disease is in California citrus orchards, but surveys are being conducted to evaluate the spread of this disease in orchards.
The disease was first noticed in 2012 by several growers and nurserymen in various orchards in the Central Valley. Symptoms included leaf chlorosis, crown thinning, gumming on twigs and shoot dieback, and in severe cases, branch dieback of trees (Fig.2). The most characteristic symptoms of this disease are the gum pockets which appear on young shoots either alone or in clusters and the dieback of twigs and shoots (Fig.3). These symptoms were primarily reported from clementine, mandarin, and navel orange varieties. In order to determine the main cause of this disease, field surveys were conducted in several orchards throughout the Central Valley. Isolations from symptomatic plant samples frequently yielded Colletotrichum species.
Field observations indicate that symptoms initially appear during the early summer months and continue to express until the early fall. Trees showing dieback and gumming symptoms characteristic of this disease are usually sporadic within an orchard and generally only a few twigs or shoots are affected within a tree. Morphological and molecular phylogenetic studies allowed the identification of two distinct species of Colletotrichum (Colletotrichum karstii and Colletotrichum gloeosporioides) associated with twig and shoot dieback. Interestingly, these Colletotrichum species were also isolated from cankers in larger branches. Although C. gloeosporioides is known to cause anthracnose on citrus, a post-harvest disease causing fruit decay, it has not been reported to cause shoot dieback of citrus. C. karstii however has not been reported previously from citrus in California and our laboratory is currently conducting field and green house studies to determine the pathogenicity of this species in citrus.
At present, it is unclear how widespread this disease is in California orchards or how many citrus varieties are susceptible to this disease. Pest control advisors are advised to remain alert and monitor citrus trees for the presence of the disease in the Central Valley (particularly clementine, mandarin, and navel varieties) during the early summer months. Continuing research lead by Dr. Akif Eskalen (UC Riverside) in collaboration with Dr. Florent Trouillas (Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center), Dr. Greg Douhan (UCCE Farm Advisor Tulare County), and Craig Kallsen (UCCE Farm Advisor in Kern County) is focused on further understanding the biology of the fungal pathogens as well as factors influencing disease expression in order to develop management strategies against this emerging disease.
Shoot dieback symptoms on Clementine
Branch dieback symptoms on Clementine
Gumming symptoms on Clementine
(photos: A. Eskalen)