I'm hoping that someone can help me with a problem.
I have a weird virus that's affecting some of my echinacea in one of my
You can see what it looks like here:
Green, leathery, petals, and some are growing new flower heads out of
Does anyone have any idea which virus could be causing this problem?
Could it have been vectored by the hoppers I found on the plants (also
And my final question is almost rhetorical ... do I need to destroy the
I'd appreciate your input. Thanks.
As you suspected the hoppers do have more than a little to do with it, as
they spread a bacteria-like mycoplasma organism that causes a disease
called Aster Yellows. It effects different plants in different ways, but
for echinacea, it causes the flowers to turn green & leathery, sterile &
malformed, which on echinacea can look rather pretty & interesting, if
only it weren't a spreading disease. Other indicators on other plants
include flattened elongated leaves that get yellow streaks; leaves aging
to rust colored; or stunted growth.
Semi-amusingly, in one gardening bulletin board, someone announced they
had a new "mutation," & the other posters on the board began begging for
starts of it for their own gardens. It was necessary to register to post
there, & since nobody knowledgeable would be likely to bother to sign up
for the privilege, those folks just kept begging for starts of the
It is spread by the leafhoppers from a reservoir plant that is probably a
common weed, possibly of the onion family; but if you live near vegetable
plantations (carrots, onions, lettuce, wheat, potato, parsnip, alfalfa),
or commercial flower fields (asters), the disease especially likes
single-crop areas & is spread from there by the leafhoppers.
I would dig up & compost infected plants (when WELL composted there'll be
no lingering mycoplasma organisms; if your composting technique is iffy,
then bag & toss infected plants). Then replace them since the soil itself
is unaffected. But if leafhoppers remain numerous they'll continue to
bring in the disease.
There is no cure & the key is controlling the leafhoppers (though aphids
may also spread it). Commercial crops deal with it by doing rotational
crops & not planting infected crop choices for two or three years & by
spraying harsh chemicals to kill leafhoppers -- but insecticides usually
make a problem worse in the long run, this being a short-term fix that
also kills beneficial insects which would have done a better on-going
control, but when poisoned permit the leafhoppers to return in following
years in greater numbers. In their soft-bodied larval stage they can be
managed with soapy water the same as for aphids, a treatment that is far
less hazardous to beneficial insects.
Organic control of leafhoppers: They winter over in garden rubble, so
clean up the garden, & don't winter-mulch with leaves or straw until the
population is controlled. Release ladybugs. Also, places like
www.planetnatural.com sell lacewing eggs cheaply & lacewing larvae ("aphid
lions") expensively, & lacewings are the natural enemy of aphids &
lacewings. www.planetnatural.com also sells pirate bugs -- it is rare that
a garden with plenty of lady bugs, aphid lions, & pirate bugs have major
aphid or leafhopper problems. You've probably seen the pirate bugs in your
garden & not recognized them, they are like hard beetles with a diamond
patterned back, & a pointy snout; they are gardeners' best friends.
Unfortunately they're ghastly expensive to buy, but lacewings & ladybugs
are cheap enough.
-paghat the ratgirl
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
Now you're scaring me. I have shrubs, which I think are chinese barberry that
have leaves that age to rust ... not all the leaves, just a few. Could it be
just plain old rust of some sort?
LOL. That's more than semi-funny. I've seen the results of vectored viruses,
courtesy of the spit bugs, so that's why I suspected a virus. I didn't know
about phytoplasma 'til just now. Fascinating.
There's farmland within 15 miles ... and many many common weeds nearby.
I killed all the ones on the echinacea manually, right after I took the
pictures. But I do have some every year, and usually on the wild black
I pulled the affected echinacea this afternoon and put them into the
municipal compost bag today. Their mountain gets hotter than my two heaps.
Soapy water and diatomaceous earth, as well as manual dispatching are my
usual methods. I garden organically, so there are lots of bugs, both good and
Yes. I'm sure this is the problem. That bed has poor, humus-deficient soil
and I've been ammending it by leaving a thick carpte of maple leaves on it
for the past few seasons, and then left it on for mulch. It has helped the
soil, but I guess I won't be doing that this fall.
I had zillions of them. They seemd to have hibernated at the base of the plum
tree. They've done a great job of controlling the aphids on the plum, and
other aphid favourites. I wish they had an appetite for sawfly larvae. Had a
plague of those this year too.
I did a search and, yes, I have seen them, though not that many. I don't kill
any bugs until after I've ID'd them. I don't know that I've ever seen a
lacewing in the garden.
It looks like Aster Yellows. Aster yellows is caused by a tiny organism known
as a phytoplasma and is spread from plant to plant by leafhopper feeding. Once
infected, there is no cure. Diseased plants should be promptly removed and
discarded to reduce further spread.
Thanks for the information. I googled phytoplasma because I'd never hear of it
before. Very interesting. One site mentioned that Tetracycline would cure a
Remission of symptoms and even curing a plant can be achieved through the
application of the antibiotic tetracycline (which is also a way to tell if you
have a phytoplasma!) (McCoy and Williams 1982)
I wouldn't get antibiotic for echinacea, but it might be useful for rarer
specimens. I wonder how one would use it? As a foliar spray?
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