- Author: Ben Faber
The disease pyramid describes how disease can eventually destroy a plant.
It is comprised of the presents of the pathogen that causes the disease, the plant or host, the environmental conditions that sets up the pathogen to go after the plant and time. It requires all four at the same time to have a disease. So in the case of avocado root rot, it's necessary to have Phytophthora cinnamomi there with a susceptible avocado root, in warm, moist conditions for a period of time for the disease to express itself. For a young tree, the disease may show up within a year but for older trees it may take several years to see the disease symptoms. For avocado crown rot, it may take several years for Phytophthora citricola to appear. In the case of Huanglongbing, not only is the pathogen required, but also the vector for spreading it, the Asian Citrus Psyllid. At this point in California, we have a rapidly spreading vector, but as yet, it appears the psyllid is not infected with the bacteria causing the citrus disease.
Not only time is important, but timing of sampling and point of sampling are important. In the case of avocado root rot, the best sample if from a recently infected root in the spring or summer. A thoroughly destroyed root taken in the winter will often give a negative response. The pathogen has done its ravages and is no longer active. If the wrong leaf or root is sampled for the Huanglongbing bacteria, the assay will show a negative response, even though it is in the plant. (This may have something to do with Einstein's Theory of Relativity in this 100th year of pronouncement, but I doubt it).
And then too, even if a disease is finally diagnosed, it doesn't mean the tree is going to die. If Phytophthora is caught soon enough, it can be treated with phosphites, but the environment needs to be changed at the same time. Meaning, the irrigation needs to be adjusted so that the treatment will work. If the irrigation is changed, the trunk canker will disappear.
It also means that all those terrible disease out there that threatened our trees in other countries won't hurt ours. We have a different environment from Thailand, India, Brazil, etc. and so even though there may be devastating disease there, since we don't have the environment, we wont get those diseases. Yeah, we are going to get huanglongbing and polyphagous shot hole borer fusarium, but we should be happy we aren't getting all the other problems other countries have. This is a way of saying, happy New Year. It could be a whole lot worse and we are doing pretty well.