Gary W. Moorman, Professor of Plant Pathology
Downy mildew is the common name for a group of highly specialized obligate parasites of vascular plants. These organisms are distinctly different from the powdery mildews. Although they have traditionally been included taxonomically with true fungi, these organisms and their relatives in the genera Phytophthora and Pythium and others in the Oomycota are now not believed to be closely related to true fungi. Morphologically, they are similar to fungi and have absorptive nutrition. The chemicals used to control downy mildews are similar to those used for Pythium and Phytophthora and different from most of those used for true fungi.
Downy mildew colonies often appear first on the underside of leaves, and they sometimes have a bluish tinge (1; 3). In many cases, they can grow systemically throughout the plant. If growing abundantly on a leaf, downy mildew colonies can be confused with gray mold (Botrytis) or with powdery mildew. Microscopically, they are very easy to tell apart from powdery mildew and Botrytis. On the foliage, small yellow spots develop on the upper sides of the leaf while white to bluish-white fluffy growth forms on the underside of the leaf. As the leaf spot dies, the fluffy growth darkens to gray in color. Infected leaves and branches may be distorted and die.
Downy mildews are generally favored by cool temperatures (15-23° C = 58-72° F) and relative humidity above 85% at the leaf surface. While some downy mildews survive from year to year locally in plant debris, in the soil, or on weeds, others do not survive in cold climates and must be blown back to our region from southern climates each spring. Species of downy mildews reproduce sexually via oogonia and antheridia and asexually via sporangia. From the time of infection until new spores form can be as short as 4 days but is usually 7-10 days. In all species, the sporangia germinate directly by forming a germ tube that penetrates the plant. In some species (Sclerospora and Plasmopara), sporangia can also germinate 'indirectly' by releasing zoospores. Peronospora, Pseudoperonospora, and Bremia rarely if ever form zoospores.
Downy mildew on underside of leaf. Note grayish-blue color.
Downy mildew on Rudbeckia. White color could be confused
White Downy mildew branch with spore attached.
Plant debris should be removed from the area around the plant and buried, burned, or placed in a closed container. Plants should be spaced to ensure good air circulation around them so that when irrigated or subject to rainfall, leaf surfaces dry quickly. Overhead irrigation should not be used when the weather is generally cool. IT IS IMPORTANT, during cool damp weather in the spring, TO SCOUT HIGHLY SUSCEPTIBLE PLANTS in order to detect first infections. In particular, roses, pansy and impatiens should be monitored carefully. Contact Cooperative for information concerning the fungicides that are available to control downy mildews to protect plants during cool, damp weather.
Agrios, G. N. 1997. Plant Pathology. Fourth ed. New York: Academic Press. 635 pp.
Farr, D. F., Bills, G. F., Chamuris, G. P., and Rossman, A. Y. 1989. Fungi on plants and plant products in the United States. St. Paul: APS Press. 1252 pp.
Yarwood, C. E. 1947. Snapdragon downy mildew. Hilgardia 17:241-250.
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.