White Pine Blister Rust in Vermont: Past, Present, and Concerns for the Future

in HortTechnology

White pine blister rust (WPBR) (Cronartium ribicola J. C. Fischer) has been present in Vermont and other northeastern states since the early 1900s. The fungus is commonly observed on currants and gooseberries (Ribes L.) every year, but incidence varies on eastern white pine (Pinus strobus L.). Our general impression has been that Vermont has had a relatively low level of infection on eastern white pines; however, we recently found rust incidence in Christmas tree plantings in northern Vermont to range from 10 to 42% (average 20%) based on 721 trees surveyed. Also, in pole-sized stands in southern Vermont, incidence ranged from 12 to 46% (average 32%) and 76% of these trees had main stem infections. In the southern survey, 98% of wild ribes plants had varied amounts of both urediniospores and teliospores. These preliminary survey data suggest that incidence of WPBR may be more significant than previously thought and therefore, additional survey work is needed. We screened cultivars of Ribes for susceptibility to WPBR. Eighteen cultivars were inoculated in the field with a mass collection of aeciospores of C. ribicola. The percentages of leaf area infected ranged from 0 to 49 for the urediniospore stage and from 0 to 55 for teliospores. The gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa L.) `Welcome' had the highest percentage of leaf area with urediniospores, while black currants (R. nigrum L.) `Coronet,' `Consort,' and `Crusader' had no visible infection. Presently, Vermont has no WPBR regulations. However, previous federal laws did restrict black currant cultivation. Little is known about the genetic diversity of WPBR or its potential for change. Caution must be used when considering any cultivation of Ribes for the purpose of producing fruit because our valued white pine resources could be negatively impacted.

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