Early season leaf spots and blights of corn
There are several leaf spot and leaf blight diseases that can develop on young corn plants including anthracnose, holcus leaf spot and Stewart's bacterial wilt. There have been a few questions about distinguishing between these diseases so a review of their symptoms and disease cycles seems appropriate.
Anthracnose leaf blight, caused by the fungus Colletotrichum graminicola, usually occurs early in the season on the lower leaves of young corn plants. Anthracnose lesions tend to be brown, oval to spindle-shaped lesions with yellow to pinkish to reddish-brown borders. Lesions may be 0.2 to 0.6 inch in length. Lesions may merge or coalesce to kill larger areas of leaf tissue. Concentric rings or zones are sometimes apparent within the diseased areas of leaf tissue. Lesions may be concentrated towards the leaf tip (or portion of the leaf that was emerged when rain occurred) giving the leaves a fired appearance that might be mistaken for nutrient deficiency or herbicide injury.
The fungus which causes anthracnose leaf blight produces fruiting bodies in the dead leaf tissue. Dark, hairlike structures called setae are produced in association with the fruiting bodies. It is possible to see the setae on infected plant material in the field if a hand lens is used.
Anthracnose tends to be most common early in the season on the lower leaves of young corn plants. These leaves may be severely affected, yellow and die prematurely. Generally the disease stops at this point because of drier, warmer weather conditions and is not considered a significant problem. Under favorable weather conditions, the fungus may move up the plant causing foliage symptoms on higher leaves. If favorable weather conditions occur mid-season (especially wet), anthracnose may actually move up to the ear leaf. The anthracnose fungus can also cause top dieback and stalk rot later in the season. High temperatures and extended periods of wet weather favor anthracnose. Anthracnose leaf blight is more likely to occur if corn is planted following corn.
In a normal year anthracnose leaf blight in Missouri is not serious and would not warrant a fungicide application. It is a little too early in the season to know how severe anthracnose will be or to know if it might spread beyond the very lowest leaves on the plants. Following the weather patterns over the next several weeks and keeping an eye on disease development or lack of development will be important.
Holcus leaf spot is caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae. Lesions are usually oval to elliptical and range in size from 0.25 to 1.0 inch. Initially they are dark green and water-soaked. Later they become dry and turn light brown with a reddish margin.
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