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Leucostoma Canker of Spruce

October 4, 2000

This is not a new disease of spruce. Most of you know it as Cytospora canker. In recent years, however, the fungus has changed its name. Generally this happens when scientists find out more about a fungal species or category of fungi that puts the fungus in a different grouping and results in a name change to reflect that grouping. The pathogen in this case is Leucostoma kunzei, formerly called Cytospora kunzei . To confuse matters more, the perfect stage of the fungus is Valsa kunzei. The point of this is to let some of you know that Cytospora canker and Leucostoma canker are one and the same. You will see both names in scientific literature. Old texts will still have the Cytospora name. This is not new information. I usually try to resist name changes as long as possible to avoid confusion.

Leucostoma canker is probably the most common and damaging infectious disease of spruce in Illinois. Colorado blue and Norway spruces are very susceptible, especially 10- to 20-year-old trees. This disease appears on spruces as dead or dying branches, usually starting at the base of the tree and moving upward. Occasionally the affected branches will be scattered throughout the tree. The needles may drop early from affected branches or hang on for several months, leaving dry, brittle twigs. An important diagnostic feature to notice is that Leucostoma causes entire branches to die. A girdling canker forms at the base of the branch, and symptoms show first as a branch-tip death. Sometimes this disease is confused with Rhizosphaera needle cast, which affects older needles first, while needles at the tips of branches are apparently unaffected. (Refer to issue no. 2 of this newsletter for details about Rhizosphaera.) Leucostoma can continue to spread until all the branches on the tree are dead. Conspicuous patches of white resin commonly form on the bark in cankered areas at the base of dead branches. The diseased tissue is brown under the thin layer of outer bark. Black pinhead-sized fruiting bodies of the fungus (pycnidia) form in the inner bark, often embedded in the resin.

Donít be fooled when diagnosing Leucostoma canker. The mere presence of dead branches does not confirm the disease. Look for resin areas at the base of the dead branches. Then look more closely for the black pycnidia. We have seen so much damage to spruce from environmental stress over the past several years that it injury may have nothing to do with an infectious agent. On the other hand, stressed spruce trees are more susceptible to Leucostoma canker, and it is very likely that the disease will eventually invade the stressed tree as a secondary pathogen.

There are no chemical controls to prevent or eradicate this disease. Remove dead branches as they occur, but be certain to wait for dry weather for this pruning. Try to improve tree vitality by watering in drought stress periods. It may be helpful to apply an organic mulch under the full spread of the branches but not up against the trunk. Mulch helps retain moisture and maintain a more even temperature and moisture environment for the roots. For more information consult RPD No. 604, available on the VISTA Web site or through your local Extension office.

Author: Nancy Pataky


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