A long rainy spring, such as many of us experienced this year, creates the perfect conditions for lilac blight. There are two types of lilac blights, a fungal variety, Ascochyta syringae, and a bacterial variety, Pseudomonas syringae p.v. syringae (the p.v. stands for pathogen variety and indicates a subspecies). Both varieties affect new growth on lilacs, and, since the symptoms can appear somewhat similar, we’ll look at each blight separately.
Ascochyta is a disease that usually affects grains and grasses; it causes large, wheat-colored patches of dead grass on bluegrass, for example. The fungus can also appear as leaf spots on various trees, including ash, boxelder, dogwood, and walnut, among others. Before being renamed Phoma clematidina, Ascochyta clematidina was the name of the pathogen responsible for clematis wilt. So Ascochyta is a well-distributed plant pest.
On lilac, Ascochyta is sufficiently severe to cause a blight, in which the leaf spots coalesce into blotches. Eventually the blight girdles new twigs and kills the leaves. In the spring, look for symptoms on new growth, including a brown or black shepherd’s crook. This is one of the confusing symptoms, since shepherd’s crooks are more commonly seen with bacterial diseases, such as fireblight on crabapples. Continue reading