Identifying corn stalk rots
Any factors that stress corn during the growing season may contribute to an increase in stalk rots that season. And this has certainly been a season of stresses for corn in Missouri with late planting due to wet soil conditions, flooding, low temperatures, high temperatures, high night temperatures, moisture stress, heavy rains, hail, some foliage diseases, etc. Therefore, it would be wise to scout fields for corn stalk rots and to harvest fields with stalk rot problems as quickly as possible.
A number of different fungi and bacteria cause stalk rots of corn. Although many of these pathogens cause distinctive symptoms, there are also general symptoms which are common to all stalk rot diseases. Early symptoms, which occur a few weeks after pollination, usually start with premature dying of bottom leaves. Eventually, the entire plant may die and appear light green to gray. Diseased stalks usually begin losing firmness during August. The cells in the interior of the stalk are dissolved, resulting in a loss of stalk firmness and strength. Stalks may then lodge, particularly if harvest is delayed or wind storms occur.
Fusarium stalk rot and Gibberella stalk rot can be difficult to distinguish in the field. Both can cause a pink to reddish discoloration of diseased stalk tissue. Tufts of white mycelium may be evident at the nodes of diseased stalks. When stalks are split open the pith is usually shredded and discolored.
Anthracnose stalk rot, caused by the fungus Colletotrichum graminicola, may be most evident at the nodes. Initially lesions are tan to reddish-brown but they become shiny black later in the season. These shiny black lesions may begin at a node and extend out from that node. The lesions may merge to discolor much of the lower stalk tissue. Internal pith tissues may also be discolored and may disintegrate as disease progresses.
Diplodia stalk rot may begin as a brown to tan discoloration of the lower internodes. Stalks become spongy. The pith disintegrates leaving only the vascular bundles. Mats of white fungal growth of Diplodia maydis may be evident on affected tissues. Diplodia also produces fruiting bodies which may be seen as small black specks embedded in the white fungal mat. Diplodia also causes an ear rot of corn. Diplodia ear rot has been found in scattered fields across the state so Diplodia stalk rot could also occur this season.
Charcoal rot may begin as a root rot and move into the lower internodes of the stalks. Pith tissues will be shredded and plants may break at the crown. The charcoal rot fungus, Macrophomina phaseolina, produces very small survival structures called microsclerotia which may be visible as very small, black flecks just beneath the stalk surface or on the vascular strands remaining in the interior of the shredded stalks. Charcoal rot is usually more severe under hot, dry conditions, so this corn stalk rot could be a serious problem in areas of the state which suffered from drought conditions the latter part of the growing season.