Mouse Ear Disorder on River Birch Caused by Nickel Deficiency

in HortScience
Author: John M. Ruter*1
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  • 1 Univ. of Georgia, Horticulture, Tifton, GA 31794

Mouse ear (leaf curl, little leaf, squirrel ear) has been a problem for growers of container-grown river birch (Betula nigra L.) since the early 1990's. Mouse ear has been noticed in several southeastern States as well as Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin, making it a national problem. The disorder is easy to detect in nurseries as the plants appear stunted. The leaves are small, wrinkled, often darker green in color, commonly cupped, and have necrotic margins. New growth has shortened internodes which gives plants a witches-broom appearance. Plants growing in native soil rarely express the disorder. Several common micronutrients have been evaluated with no results. A trial was initiated in June, 2003 to determine if nickel deficiency was the cause of mouse-ear. Symptomatic river birch trees growing in a pine bark substrate in containers were treated with foliar applications of nickel sulfate and a substrate drench. Topdress applications of superphosphate (0-46-0) and Miloroganite, products known to contain nickel, were also applied. At 16 days after treatment (DAT), up to 5 cm of new growth occurred on plants sprayed with nickel sulfate and foliar concentrations of nickel in the new growth increased five fold compared to control plants. At 30 DAT, shoot length increased 60%, leaf area increased 83%, and leaf dry mass increased 81% for trees receiving a foliar application compared to non-treated control plants. Treating trees with a substrate drench alleviated symptoms, whereas treatment with superphosphate and Milorganite did not. Trees receiving a foliar or drench application had normal growth for the remainder of the growing season. Additional studies are underway to refine methods of application, rates, and sources of nickel suitable for use.

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