June: Foliar Diseases of Trees and Shrubs

May has been a fairly wet month in many parts of Wisconsin.  When spring rains overlap with leaf emergence on broad-leafed trees and shrubs, expect leaf diseases to run rampant over the summer.  Some of diseases that I have already seen or I am expecting to see this year include:

  • Anthracnose on White Oak
    Anthracnose on White Oak

    Anthracnose. Anthracnose refers to a large group of fungal leaf diseases.  There are many different types of anthracnose fungi and they are somewhat host specific.  However, all of these fungi tend to cause irregular, blotchy necrotic (i.e., dead) areas on leaves.  If anthracnose occurs early (on leaves that are not fully expanded), leaves can become cupped and curled.  On some trees (white oaks come to mind), anthracnose can be so severe that it will cause defoliation, but typically these trees will releaf and by July, you would never know the trees had anthracnose earlier in the year.

  • Symptoms of tar spot on silver maple leaves.
    Symptoms of tar spot on silver maple leaves.

    Tar spot. This is a disease I most commonly see on maples.  The distinctive symptoms (either large, solid tar-like spots, or circular, diffuse clusters of smaller tarry spots) typically are not visible until later in the season.  However, check maple leaves (particularly on Norway maples) right now for small yellow spots that are a clue that infections have already occurred.  If you have a good (10X or 20X) hand lens, you may be able to see very small, tarry spots in the middle of the yellow areas.  Continue to watch for more spectacular symptoms to develop as the summer progresses.

  • Leaf distortions and discoloration typical of peach leaf curl.
    Leaf distortions and discoloration typical of peach leaf curl.

    Peach leaf curl. If you have a peach tree with curled, cupped and bubbly looking leaves, you have this disease.  The distorted leaves often have a pinkish and/or yellowish color.  There is nothing else that will cause these sorts of symptom on peach leaves.

  • Leaf spots typical of apple scab on apple. Similar lesions occur on fruits.
    Leaf spots typical of apple scab on apple. Similar lesions occur on fruits.

    Apple scab. I expect a banner year for this disease on apple and crabapple trees.  The causal fungus survives in apple and crabapple leaf litter and releases spores during wet periods as leaves are beginning to emerge.  Initial infections lead to dark, roughly circular leaf spots with somewhat feathery edges.  Spores are produced in the infected areas leading to additional infections.  Eventually entire leaves can look gray/black and sooty.  Highly susceptible apple and crabapple varieties usually totally defoliate due to the disease by mid-season.  Unfortunately the affected trees do not releaf.

  • Circular, yellow-orange diseased areas typical of cedar-apple rust on apple.
    Circular, yellow-orange diseased areas typical of cedar-apple rust on apple.

    Cedar-apple rust (and other Gymnosporangium rusts). I received a number of photos of the juniper stage of this fungal disease earlier in the spring, and I posted several of these photos to my clinic Facebook page.  The orange, marmalade-like masses that form on junipers produce spores that infect leaves of apples, crabapples and hawthorns.  The leaf spots that eventually form (they are at their most vibrant in July and August) are often roughly nickel-sized and bright yellow, orange or maroon (on red-foliaged varieties of crabapples).  Spores produced in these spots eventually reinfect junipers, thus completing the pathogen’s life cycle.  Also watch for spiny, salmon-colored fruit on hawthorns, a variation of the disease called cedar-quince rust.

To learn more about these diseases (as well as other plant diseases) and their management, explore the Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic (PDDC) website (https://pddc.wisc.edu/) or follow the PDDC on Facebook and Twitter @UWPDDC.