Plants are the root to sustainable living on planet earth. They feed us, clothe us, provide medicines and building materials, purify our water and air, shade us and protect us from extreme flooding or heat. This Plant Health Week 2023 (8th-14th May), we are celebrating the power of plants and our need to protect them.
It’s not unusual for human health to eclipse any other health issue on our planet and 2020 demonstrated this perfectly. To time with an international effort to highlight the importance of plants to us all, the rapid spread of a novel human virus shut down countries and dominated the headlines everywhere, even forcing some plant pathologists to switch their research onto a human virus.
Eric Boa, a plant pathologist at CABI and board member of the BSPP during the 2020-21 lockdowns, highlighted the real truth: plants suffer from pandemics too. Plants are transported across the world to new regions, with different ecosystems and local growing conditions. Diseases can follow, even hundreds of years after their original host plants made the journey. As coffee became a global crop, so the Coffee leaf rust fungus “thought to have co-evolved with wild coffee in equatorial Africa” has spread across the world. Cassava plants from the Americas have long provided a staple food in Africa, but viruses have plagued this crop, spread by insect vectors.
Once diseases arrive in a new habitat, they can cause devastating damage. Reminiscent of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1960s, Ash trees in the UK are now threatened by a fungus thought to originate from East Asia. This is the perfect example of transferring a native tree far away from its home country and inadvertently bringing a destructive fungus with it. The fungus that causes European Ash dieback lives an innocuous life in Asian Ash trees (as an and endophyte). Fresh research on old botanical specimens indicates this fungus was present inside trees grown from seeds collected in China, found in Eastern Europe in the 1970s.
We now know that every plant contains many other kingdoms of life, and the make-up of this community is often crucial to their health. As with Ash, one microbe can live quietly in one plant species and yet cause chaos inside another. The organisms that live inside plants are able to turn invisible defence switches on or off – altering the health of the plant in myriad ways. Or alter the health of insect vectors, feeding on the plant. Some plant viruses are even being identified as potential future solutions for plant health. We are starting to understand how this new knowledge may be turned to our advantage.
Plant pathologists work much harder than simply diagnosing a plant disease and offering possible treatments. Recent research has confirmed that plant health is a precious balance which can tip with the slightest change. For example, a new devastating variety of potato blight can be controlled simply by restricting the potato variety being grown. With climate change comes new risk, as some plants thrive longer in higher latitudes, their diseases also survive better.
Every day, new plant health discoveries are published across the world. New plant diseases spread from wild plants to crops and back, or across country borders in imported fruits and vegetables. Our study of the world of plants reveals complex communications and trade-offs that demands our care and attention to detail, and confirms our need to prioritise the diseases that threaten the health of our plants.
Every BSPP member seeks to protect plant health: from the field to research, and from industry to government. Whether you are an active researcher or a plant health communicator, we all act to sustain plants in a world of global travel, overuse of antimicrobial chemicals and habitat destruction. Oladapo, one of our new BSPP Ambassadors, highlighted the importance of weed research, as weeds can be plant disease reservoirs in #PlantHealthWeek.
Weeds can be reservoirs of plant pathogens, therefore weed control is essential in #HelpingKeepPlantsHealthy#PlantHealthWeek #WeedControlResearch@BS_PP @CONNECTED_Virus @Syngenta @ippcnews @APHAgovuk @DefraGovUK @MikabAley @NsppOfficial pic.twitter.com/12ODakEZaS
— oladapo folarin (@dapidu) May 11, 2023
This plant health week, we found out about: The impact of bacterial diseases on crops and food supply in a webinar, hosted by the bacterial plant diseases programme, chaired by British Society for Plant Pathology President, Professor Robert Jackson and featuring members of the BSPP, on Wednesday 10th May. Each talk is available to watch on Youtube here: Xylella fastidiosa, Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum, Blackleg disease of potatoes and Xanthomonas spp and diseases of bananas, brassicas, strawberries and maize.
International Plant Health Day, the 12th May
Join the international day of plant health with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Plant Protection Convention.
Follow @bs_pp on twitter for a #TwitterTakeover by two of our new BSPP Ambassadors, Unnati Sonawala and Elin Falla, to celebrate #PlantHealthDay!
Learn about Plant Health and Biosecurity of Trees with a webinar hosted by Rothamsted Research and discover more about a devastating and prolific plant disease, relatively new to the UK with a Forest Science Seminar: Identifying Phytophthora risk in plant nurseries, by Forest Research.
We can all play a part in protecting plant health. On Wednesday 12th, the RHS and DEFRA launched a new citizen science campaign to record local Sweet Chestnut trees and track their health. There is guidance on the RHS website and tree health can be recorded using the Forest Research Tree Alert tool.
#PlantHealthWeek #PlantHealth #PlantHealthDay #PlantHealthDay2023
TITLE IMAGE: Coffee Leaf Rust on Coffee Trees: Orange powdery spots indicate the distinctive presence of masses of spores of Hemileia vastatrix,
the fungus that causes coffee leaf rust. from the Plant Pandemic Report: “Coffee Leaf Rust – Back with a Vengeance” by Athina Koutouleas and David Collinge.