Bacterial Leaf Scorch
This can occur if 1) there is insufficient moisture in the soil 2) water is lost too quickly from the leaves to be replaced adequately, 3) roots have been killed by plant pathogens, excavation, or compaction or 4) fungi or bacteria invade and plug the water conducting vessels (xylem) in the plant.
One living organism found to inhabit the xylem and cause leaf scorching is Xylella fastidiosa. These bacteria are small (0.25-0.5 X 1.0-4.0 um), stain gram negative, have no flagella, do not form a spore, have a thick rippled cell wall, and do not grow on conventional bacteriological media. Xylella has been associated with leaf scorch on oak, elm, sycamore, mulberry, red maple, and sweetgum, and, Pierce's disease on grapevine, phony peach disease, plum leaf scald, periwinkle wilt, almond leaf scorch, alfalfa dwarf, and ragweed stunt. Phony peach disease was first reported in California in 1890 and Pierce's disease on grapevines (Vitis vinifera L.) in 1892 in California. Elm leaf scorch has been observed in the Washington, D.C. area since the 1950s. Bacterial leaf scorch on pin and red oaks is widespread and severe in eastern Pennsylvania and is known to be spreading westward.
The following plants have been found to harbor Xylella in the U.S.:
- poison hemlock (Conium maculatum L.)
- peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea (L.) Koehne)
- umbrella sedge (Cyperus eragrostis Lam.)
- American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana L.)
- dallis grass (Paspalum dilatatum Poir.)
- blackberry (Rubus sp.)
- wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca L.)
- grapes (Vitis)
- miner's lettuce (Montia linearis (Dougl.) Greene)
- eastern baccharis (Baccharis halimifolia L.)
- blackberry (Rubus procerus P.J.Muell.)
- sumac (Rhus sp.)
- periwinkle (Vinca minor L.)
- goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa Mill.)
- American elder (Sambucus canadensis L.)
- peach (Prunus persica (L.) Batsch)
- Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia (L.) Planch.)
- English ivy (Hedera helix L.)
- Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata Siebold & Zucc .) Planch.
Red Maple Leaf Scorch
Leaf scorch occurs on localized, individual branches and more branches are affected each year. While leaves appear normal early in the season, leaf discoloration begins at the leaf margin and migrates with an undulating front toward the midrib and base of leaf beginning mid to late July. The light brown dead tissue along leaf margin is frequently bordered by narrow to wide zones of dark reddish brown tissue. The dead tissue is separated from green tissue by a narrow but distinct yellow border or halo. Premature defoliation can occur in late August. This disease may make affected trees more sensitive to damage caused by site-related stresses such as deicing salts and limited growing space.
Elm Leaf Scorch
Leaf margins die and have a distinct yellow border separating the dead tissue from the green tissue. Scorching begins on leaves at the base of the tree and moves upward through the canopy. Leaves on branches that were affected during the previous season appear normal in the Spring but later show symptoms. Some premature defoliation may occur. Affected trees are very attractive to elm bark beetles and are much more susceptible to Dutch elm disease than trees free of leaf scorch.
Oak Leaf Scorch
This disease affects primarily pin and red oak but has also been found in white oak. Leaf margins die and have a distinct yellow border separating the dead tissue from the green tissue. The symptoms progress toward the base of the leaf in an undulating front. Defoliation is not usually a symptom on red oak but water sprouts (epicormic shoots) develop on red oak as the disease progresses. In Georgia, the bacteria were successfully isolated from twigs November to January but not from February through July. White, black, swamp, scarlet, southern red, shingle, bluejack, turkey, laurel, bur, water, pin, willow, chestnut, northern red, shumard, post, and live oaks are known to be susceptible to this disease.
Sycamore And London Plane Leaf Scorch
In late June or July, olive green discoloration of leaf margin develops and the margin dies. Affected leaves remain attached. The leaves at branch tips are the last to scorch or may not scorch at all. Trees with a history of scorch are slow to leaf out and develop fewer leaves and smaller leaves than scorch-free trees. Branch dieback and tree death eventually occurs.
Mulberry Leaf Scorch
A marginal, undulating leaf burn with a yellow halo progresses on leaves from the base of the tree upward and from base of limbs outward. Severely scorched leaves fall, leaving tufts of leaves at branch ends. Branch dieback occurs. Xylella, pathogenic on mulberry, is also pathogenic on sycamore and vice versa.
Dogwood leaf scorch
The tips and margins of leaves burn toward the base and midrib of the leaf. Symptoms on Cornus florida and Cornus kousa are almost indistinguishable from those caused by drought.
Nymph and adult spittlebugs, treehoppers, and leafhoppers are known to carry Xylella from plant to plant. Once the bacteria are picked up, they are in some cases immediately transmittable or, in other cases, have a 2 hr. latent period before they are transmittable. The insect will continue to carry the bacteria until it molts and the bacteria can actually multiply inside the insect foregut. As the insect feeds, bacteria are egested into the feeding site..
Although the symptoms seem distinctive, it is difficult to be certain of the cause of a marginal leaf burn. Commercial diagnostic services can confirm the presence of Xylella.
It requires several years for the bacteria to kill trees. The bacteria may be so widespread in the wild plant population that removal of infected trees may not prevent the spread of the bacteria to neighboring trees. The antibiotic tetracycline, when injected into an infected tree, will temporarily alleviate the symptoms during the year of injection but does not cure the tree of the disease. As the tetracycline breaks down in the tree, symptoms reappear in years where no injection is performed. No other treatment has proven to be effective in alleviating symptoms.
Suggested further reading:
- Hopkins, D. L and Adlerz, W. C. 1988. Natural hosts of Xylella fastidiosa in Florida. Plant Disease 72:429-431.
- Hopkins, D. L. 1983. Gram-negative, xylem-limited bacteria in plant disease. Phytopathology 73:347-350.
- Kostka, S. J., Tattar, T. A., Sherald, J. L., and Hurtt, S. S. 1986. Mulberry leaf scorch, new disease caused by a fastidious xylem-limited bacterium. Plant Disease 70:690-693.
- Raju, B. C. and Wells, J. M. 1986. Diseases caused by fastidious xylem-limited bacteria and strategies for management. Plant Disease 70:182-186.
- Sherald, J. L., Hearon, S. S., Kostka, S. J., and Morgan, D. L. 1983. Sycamore leaf scorch: Culture and pathogenicity of fastidious xylem-limited bacteria from scorch-affected trees. Plant Disease 67:849-852.
- Sherald, J. L., Wells, J. M., Hurtt, S. S., and Kostka, S. J. 1987. Association of fastidious, xylem-inhabiting bacteria with leaf scorch in red maple. Plant Disease 71:930-933.
- Wester, H. V. and Jylkka, E. W. 1959. Elm scorch, graft transmissible virus of American elm. Plant Disease Reporter 43: 519.
Prepared by Gary W. Moorman, Professor of Plant Pathology
Notice: The user of this information assumes all risks for personal injury or property damage.
Warning! Pesticides are poisonous. Read and follow all directions and safety precautions on labels. Handle carefully and store in original labeled containers out of the reach of children, pets, and livestock. Dispose of empty containers right away, in a safe manner and place. Do not contaminate forage, streams or ponds.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U. S. Department of Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences research and extension programs are funded in part by Pennsylvania counties, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Visit Penn State Extension on the web at extension.psu.edu.
Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by Penn State Cooperative Extension is implied.
This publication is available in alternative media on request.
The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission, and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. The Pennsylvania State University prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated at The Pennsylvania State University. Direct all inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policy to the Affirmative Action Director, The Pennsylvania State University, 328 Boucke Building, University Park, PA 16802-5901; Tel 814-865-4700/V, 814-863-1150/TTY.