Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Fusarium wilt

Brett Summerell & Edward Liew, Plant Pathologists

Fusarium is a genus of fungi that cause some of the most important plant diseases affecting agricultural and horticultural crops. Members of the genus also produce a range of toxic compounds that contaminate food and food products that can adversely affect livestock and humans. In addition some of these species are also being recognised as important pathogens of humans, especially the immuno-compromised. Worldwide the genus is thought to cause many billions of dollars damage in various ways.

In Sydney one of the most important diseases caused by a species of Fusarium has been Fusarium wilt of Canary Island Date Palms - see fact sheet. These palms have been planted throughout Sydney, and many other areas of Australia, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. However since the 1980s these palms have been dying from the disease when it appears that either the fungus was introduced or evolved naturally here. For example at Centennial Park over 300 of the palms have died from the disease and unfortunately once infected there is no cure for the infected plants. We have been working with councils, the aboricultural industry and other government agencies to minimise the spread of the disease by promoting information about the disease and how it spreads.

For a number of years researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust in collaboration with researchers at the University of Sydney and Kansas State University have been examining many aspects of this important genus. We have developed procedures for the identification and diagnosis of these fungi and have identified new species from a number of habitats especially in grasslands in Australia. We also research the ecology of the fungus and the epidemiology and pathology of various important plant pathogenic species.