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Maybe the Plant Clinic Can Help!

April 25, 2001

Most larger land-grant universities have plant clinics, which have evolved to handle most plant problems or to refer clients to specialty labs. Services at the University of Illinois Plant Clinic in Urbana include plant and insect identification; diagnosis of disease, insect, weed and chemical-injury symptoms (no chemical-residue testing); nematode assays, and help with nutrient-related problems, as well as management recommendations involving these diagnoses. The clinic cannot handle herbicide-injury problems on ornamental plants nor can it assess nutrient levels in tissue or soil samples. For specific needs, call first, and we can determine if we can help or if you should use another lab. The purpose of the Plant Clinic is to provide an unbiased analysis at an affordable price.

The UI Plant Clinic operates from May 1 to September 15. The budget is supported in part by user fees, which have not changed since 1999. A check made payable to the University of Illinois must accompany each sample. There is no discount or free service for University employees or alumni.

General diagnosis (including cultures) $12.50
Specialty tests (SCN, PWN, ELISA)* $18.75
Other nematodes (usually corn) $40.00

*SCN indicates the test for soybean cyst nematode. PWN indicates pinewood nematode analysis. ELISA is a technique used to obtain quick and accurate assays for a few specific pathogens. If you are in doubt as to the charge, call the clinic at (217)333-0519. Forwarding samples to other labs requires client approval.

Send a specimen data form or equivalent information with a plant sample. In a few cases, the exact cause of the problem may be obvious; but usually it is necessary to perform microscopic work, culturing, and consulting with specialists to complete a diagnosis. A thorough diagnosis is directly related to quality of the sample and type of information provided. Take the time to include as much information as possible to avoid additional sampling. Each UI Extension office should have the clinic specimen data form. It is in the Master Gardener Manual (at the back of the disease section) and the Field Crop Scouting Manual, and at http://www.cropsci.uiuc.edu/research/clinic/clinic.html. Pictures (either tangible photos or electronic versions) are helpful.

The most limiting factor in accurate diagnosis is probably sample quality. Imagine what happens to a plant sealed in moist toweling, wrapped in plastic, and incubated in a mail truck at 100°F. It can be a moldy mess. When sending whole plants, wrap as if you intended them to be planted on arrival. Wrap soil and roots in plastic to keep them moist and foliage clean. Do not wrap foliage in plastic. If only leaves are sent, keep them dry and between cardboard. We can rehydrate dry material but cannot remove mold from rotted tissue. Send as much of the plant as possible, including affected as well as healthy tissue, carefully labeled. When in doubt, call (217)333 0519 or consult the “how to submit a sample” section of the Web page. Business hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m., weekdays. By arrangement, you can drop off samples at other times. The mailing address is

Plant Clinic

1401 W. St. Mary’s Rd.

Urbana, IL 61802

If you have a diagnostic need that we do not offer, call and discuss this with me or send a message to npataky@uiuc.edu.

Author: Nancy Pataky


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