March 2023: Reading is Fun(gi)damental

Book IconI have spent a substantial portion of my career writing about plant diseases. When I started at the UW-Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic in 1998, one of the first things articulated by county Extension educators was their need for short, concise, and to-the-point fact sheets on a variety of horticulture topics. This need led to the development of what are now known as the UW Plant Disease Facts, a series of one page fact sheets (targeted toward an adult, home-gardener audience) that cover a range of plant disease topics. I serve as the editor of this series and have authored or co-authored roughly two-thirds of the 130 titles.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, and I was stuck at home, writing was an increasingly important activity that I could use to fill my time.  I began to think about how I might engage a younger audience and get grade, middle and high school students interested in plant diseases. My thoughts drifted to a limerick that my coworkers (Ann Joy and Nancy Kurtzweil) and I had written back in my days with the UW Ginseng Research Program (waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the Jurassic Period). The limerick:

There once was a farmer Ontarian,
The bane of his life Alternarian.
Its cure was a smash,
And brought lots cash,
And made him a wealthy agrarian.

had been taped to a refrigerator in my clinic for decades. That bit of verse made me wonder if limericks, with all of their fun and silliness, might be a way to capture the attention of a younger audience and get them immersed in the wondrous world of plant diseases.

Limerickettsia CoverThus was born Limerickettsia: A Plant Pathologist’s Book of Verse. This book, just published this year, contains 52 plant disease-themed limericks with accompanying prose descriptions, and full-color photographs and original artwork. The book includes limericks about diseases caused by all of the major types of pathogens (i.e., fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, phytoplasmas and even parasitic plants), as well as limericks about things that look like plant diseases (e.g., bird’s nest fungi, slime molds, stink horns) but are not. With each limerick, you get to learn about what the plant disease looks like, how the organism that causes the disease does its thing, and tips on plant disease control. For some of the diseases (e.g., grain rusts, late blight of potato, Dutch elm disease), there are also tidbits about how the diseases have impacted human history. If you are intrigued, check out the Limerickettsia page on the UW-PDDC website.

If you have any questions about Limerickettsia: A Plant Pathologist’s Book of Verse or any of the other educational resources available through the UW Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic, don’t hesitate to contact me. You can reach me at or (608) 262-2863.

Happy reading!!