Mites and malformations close to home 2019-04-03
Floral malformation is an important disease problem on mango trees where it is associated with various Fusarium spp. and mite activity. A similar disease is found on the water berry (Syzigium cordatum) tree that is related to Eucalyptus in the Myrtaceae. The team of the Tree Protection Co-operative Programme (TPCP) and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology (CTHB) have an interest in this disease linked to potential health threats to Eucalyptus and to S. cordatum that is an important amenity tree. Malformed flowers have been extensively sampled in the natural range of these trees including sites in the Kwazulu-Natal Province. In an attempt to understand the role of mites in floral malformations on waterberry and to compare samples from the field with those in a more secluded environment, Prof Mike Wingfield along with FABI PhD candidates Darryl Herron and Rachel Mkandawire sampled heavily-malformed inflorescences in the garden of the Wingfield’s Brooklyn (Pretoria) home. Early results are providing an excellent basis for comparison where the garden trees have a much more limited assemblage of mites and Fusarium spp. than those found in natural forests. As a scientist, sometimes you don’t have to go very far in order to put the pieces of a puzzle together. In our case, Mike’s garden provided an easy opportunity to study floral malformation close to FABI and without necessitating an extensive field trip. And an important lesson to be learned is that one should not underestimate the value of tree disease problems close to home.