Article 64 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 3

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this post we continue our journey bringing to light the catastrophic failures of mankind’s idiosyncratic actions.

Introduction – according to the Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and its network of 500 member organisations, there are 60,065 species of trees in the world, many are rare and threatened with extinction. If we multiplied the number of tree species with the number of known pests and disease all with different triggers, the statistics would not only be bewildering but also incomprehensible. Here we highlight more increasing problems the world has to face beginning with a few examples of the many deadly diseases for which at this juncture there is little or no control.

DiseaseArmillaria Root – according to Guido Schnabel of the Clemson University School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, “Armillaria root rot caused by the fungus Armillaria tabescens wreaks havoc on rootstocks, killing young and old peach and cherry trees before spreading to neighbouring trees.” “Between 1987 and 1992 Armillaria root rot caused an estimated $3.86 million to the peach industry and between 2000 and 2002, more than $1.5 million in damage to the Georgia peach industry.”

The first symptoms of an Armillaria infection are chlorotic leaves, stunted growth and sudden collapse of shoots, an obvious sign that infection is there is due to the presence of clusters of mushrooms around the base of an infected plant. Fungi sprouting from an A. mellea infection are honey-coloured to dark brown and have a domed cap. “Depending on species, the mushrooms may or may not have an annulus around the stalk or caps that are more disc-shaped.”

Armillaria mellea

This devastating disease can be caused by other Armillaria species as well, A. mellea is the primary pathogen in northern states causing premature peach tree decline, with the potential for significant annual losses. In Michigan, the predominant fungus is A. ostoyoe found in tart cherry orchards, unfortunately there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to protect trees and Armillaria infections have taken many prime orchard sites out of production causing a huge loss of revenue.

Anthracnose – high on the list of devastation is widespread and considered an important disease in most countries. It is caused by a group of fungi in the genus Colletotrichum, that attacks leaves, twigs, flowers and fruits of a great number of tree and shrubs.

Anthracnose disease

Apple scab is a common disease of apple and crabapple tree varieties, as well as Mountain ash Sorbus and pear. It is caused by a fungus Venturia inaequalis that infects leaves and fruit, leaving the latter unsuitable for eating. Leaf spots are olive green at first, later turning dark brown to black. Infected fruit turns colour in a similar fashion, ending up brown, corky and deformed.

Apple Scab disease

Thousand canker disease – affects many plants including walnuts Juglans sp. It is mainly found in the Western United States however, black walnuts trees in Tennessee were found to be infected in the summer of 2020. It is vectored by walnut twig beetles Pityophthorus juglandis and forms small cankers around their galleries. As time progresses these small cankers coalesce to girdle branches and stems and trees can be infected for years before symptoms become visible for example, foliage in the upper branches of declining trees wilt and become yellow. Once a tree begins to decline it is often dead within a few years and at present there are no chemical management solutions to control the disease.

Walnut twig Beetle

Thus far we have given examples (albeit in brief) of the devastation caused by some of the many thousands of insects and disease, adding more examples would probably substantiate the argument further, but this task has already been accomplished. In the book ‘Taiga Bonzai – Simplifying The art’ (Revised Edition), 2 chapters reveal extensive information on these subjects, c.13 concentrates on ‘Pest and Disease’ and c.14 discusses ‘Toxicity’ nevertheless, we will return to this topic in part 4.

We now turn our attention to plants needed for our survival namely fruit and vegetables starting with one of the world’s oldest fruits the humble apple, the bureaucracy over production, the controversy surrounding it and the diseases that attack various species of this particular fruit.

The appleMalus domestica, its ancestor Malus sieversii originated in Central Asia 4 thousand years ago. Today there are 7,500 apple varieties throughout the world – 2,500 of which are grown in the United States. In the 2019/2020 crop year, China was the leading producer of apples its production amounted to 41 million metric tons, the European Union came in second place with approximately 11.48 million metric tons.

The UK has been producing apples since the Roman occupation (AD 43 to AD 410) however, production is now in serious decline due to bureaucracy and trade problems with the EU, hence growers are given payments to burn their orchards. Natural England and the National Trust claimed 60% of England’s orchards had disappeared since the 1950s and have launched a £500,000 project aimed at halting the decline. The crisis has been even worse in some areas such as Devon, which has lost almost 90% of its orchards. According to David Bullock, the head of nature conservation at the National Trust, “Traditional orchards have been disappearing at an alarming rate. We are in real danger of losing these unique habitats.” ( April 2009)

The orchard – Apples trees need space to grow, dwarf varieties require a minimum of 5m, standard trees need a distance of 9 to 11m. But this distance is inadequate because, as the trees mature they spread out, thus the risk of cross contamination from bacterium and fungal spores increases. In 2017 the total area harvested in the world for apples was 4,933,841 hectares. But, apples are not the only fruit produced, other varieties include apricot, pear, peach, plum and damson, hence the land mass required increases – these varieties predominantly cultivars are also susceptible to attack, thus the orchard becomes the playground for disease.

Such diseases include: Fire Blight a contagious disease affecting apples, pears, and some other members of the family Rosaceae. It is a serious concern to apple and pear producers and is believed to be indigenous to North America, from where it spread world-wide. Powdery mildew Podosphaera leucotricha a fungus that forms a dense white fungal growth (mycelium) on the host tissue affecting leaves, buds and shoots. Black Rot and FrogEye Leaf Spot Botryosphaeria obtusa attack fruit, leaves and bark of apple trees, Phytophthora Rot a soil-borne fungal disease by the pathogen Phytophthora sojae causes seed rot and attacks roots and stems; trees infected by such pathogens are usually destroyed.

However, there are apple tree varieties that are said to be disease resistant for example, Liberty, Freedom, Dorsett Golden, Enterprise, Goldrush, Pristine, Arkansas Black and Williams Pride which are American cultivars. European apple trees include, Topaz, Herefordshire Russet and Otava, but can the claims of being disease resistant to all insects and pathogens be substantiated – in short the answer is probably not. But arguably much depends on a particular climate zone; arid, humid, wet and cold. Moreover, these zones harbour other pests for example, the Round headed apple tree borer, European red mites, Red banded and oblique banded leaf rollers, Rosy aphids, Woolly aphids, Green fruit worms, Leafhoppers and Japanese beetles.

Horticultural methods – Generally speaking there are two schools of thought when growing crops either by conventional methods or organic. Conventionally grown is an agriculture term referring to a method of growing edible plants such as fruit and vegetables. This method of cultivation often use fertilizers and pesticides which allow for higher yield, out of season growth, greater resistance, longevity and greater mass. It is opposite to organic growing methods which attempt to produce crops without the use of synthetic chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones) or genetically modified organisms. (GMO)

Organic versus Conventional – people have very strong opinions on which method of horticulture is better, some advocate a preference for organic because it is healthier, tastes better and growers refrain from using pesticides. But there are negatives to this approach, fruit and vegetable yields will suffer due to the inevitable onslaught of pests and disease during the growing season for example. Many insects attack Brassica species the most common are diamondback moth Plutella xylostella also called cabbage moth, tobacco cutworm, aphids and many others. Hence more is planted to compensate for the loss and although organically grown food is preferable and more beneficial to consumers because it does not contain chemicals; it is more expensive.

Conventionally grown (GMO) – uses seeds that have been genetically modified to grow plants that have a faster growth rate, higher yields, are said to be pest and disease resistant and are cheaper to buy nonetheless, there are negatives to this approach. The use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on fruit and vegetables may eradicate many known pests and disease, but also kills insects that are beneficial for example, the lady bird beetle Coccinellidae a predator extremely proficient in eradicating aphids and scale colonies.

Additional problems arise because conventional horticulture often results in the soil being malnourished moreover, over spraying of pesticides can lead to greater resistance creating ‘super pests’ that cannot be eradicated. This will eventually lead to the development of stronger pesticides causing serious side effects in those whom consume the product.

Other nations Nilaparvata lugens the brown plant hopper (BPH), is a planthopper species that feeds on rice plants Oryza sativa L. These insects are among the most serious pests of rice a major staple crop for more than half the world’s population. They damage rice directly through feeding and also by transmitting two viruses, rice ragged stunt virus and rice grassy stunt virus. Up to 60% yield loss is common in rice cultivars attacked by this insect. BPH is found throughout Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, North and South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

Nilaparvata lugens

The brown plant hopper is dimorphic and can be either ‘macropterous’ (long wings) or ‘brachypterous’ (short wings) forms. The macropterous forms are migrants and invade new fields/paddies, adults usually mate on the day of emergence, and the females start laying eggs from the day following mating. Brachypterous females lay 300 to 350 eggs, whereas macropterous females lay fewer eggs; the eggs hatch in about six to nine days.

In Asia, India has the largest area for rice cultivation occupying 29.4 % of the global area, but has the lowest yield. The conventional paddy growing practices are in crisis due to social, biological and technical setbacks, yet there is a growing demand for rice due to ever burgeoning population. Rice demand in 2010 was estimated to be 100 million tonnes and this would increase by 50% in 2025 to assure food security in the world’s rice-consuming countries. However, with water becoming scarce many fields are drying out and coupled with increasing infestations of Nilaparvata lugens causing yield loss, it will difficult to fulfil the demand.

The cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera is a major pest of cotton Gossypium spp. maize, Zea mays, pulses, Fabaceae tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum and sorghum bicolor throughout most of the world, but has only recently arrived in the Americas where it is rapidly spreading. It has documented resistance to 49 pesticides and is one of the most polyphagous and cosmopolitan pest species. 

Helicoverpa armigera

This species of Lepidoptera is found in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Africa and South America. The adults emerge from the soil in the first 3 weeks of May and 2-6 days later and oviposition begins; a period lasting between 5-24 days. Within this time frame, a female may lay up to 3180 eggs up to 457 in 24 hours singly and mainly at night on various crops. Including, chickpeas, cotton, maize, okras, tobacco, tomatoes; when temperatures rise to 25°C, the eggs will hatch in 3 days and larvae immediately begin crop infestation and devastation. When fully fed, the larvae descend to the soil after 1-7 days pupate in an earthen cell 2-8 cm below the surface.

Pesticides – of which there are many used to control Helicoverpa armigera including, Lambda Cyhalothrin, Chlorpyriphos, Cypermethrin Acetamiprid and Profenos Cypermethrin, but as stated previously this pest has documented resistance to 49 pesticides. Moreover, as these articles thus far have pointed out many pests and disease cannot be eradicated.

In 2020 global pesticide usage was estimated to increase from 2 million tonnes to 3.5 million tonnes with China being the main user 1,763,000 tons followed by America 407,779 tons, Brazil 377,176 tons and Argentina 196,009 tons. One may argue that pesticides are beneficial for crop production, but extensive use of pesticides can possess serious consequences because of their bio-magnification and persistent nature.

Diverse pesticides directly or indirectly pollute air, water, soil and overall ecosystem which cause serious health hazards for living beings, one only has to look at the tens of thousands of lawsuits filed against Monsanto (now part of Bayer) over their chemical ‘Roundup’. In the final article of this series part 4 we look at the arguments in the attempt to halt the global invasion of pests and disease; until next time, BW, Nik.

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