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The lovely flowering dogwood, source of so much delight from its spring flowers to its autumn colors, has a lethal enemy - dogwood anthracnose. Caused by a fungus, Discula destructiva, dogwood anthracnose has devastated wild flowering dogwood populations in large areas of North America. The disease is relatively recent in origin, first noticed in 1978 with the fungus itself only identified in 1991. This and its subsequent rapid spread throughout much of the eastern half of the continent have led some scientists to suggest that it is not native to North America.
Dogwood anthracnose is generally first identified by light brown spots on leaves. These spots then grow into large splotches occasionally bordered by purple. From the leaves, the disease then moves to the twigs and then, finally, to the main limbs and the trunk which can develop large cankers. It is these cankers which kill the tree. The time between initial infection and death is relatively short, often between two and three years for large trees.
At the present time, there is no cost-effective control for dogwood anthracnose in the wild. However, there are steps that a property owner can take to combat the disease. The first step is identification. In its initial stages, dogwood anthracnose can seem similar to other diseases affecting flowering dogwoods including the less lethal spot anthracnose. It is important, therefore, to consult a tree care specialist to verify a diagnosis. Once you have verified the presence of dogwood anthracnose, there are fungicides available for use against the Discula destructiva fungus causing the infection. Remember to follow instructions for use carefully or have an expert apply the fungicide for you. Rake all leaves and remove them each year to reduce disease incidence.
If you are thinking about planting flowering dogwoods on your property, remember to use only certified disease-free nursery stock. Do not transplant wild flowering dogwoods as this may spread the fungus. Research has indicated that dogwoods in moist and shaded areas are most susceptible to dogwood anthracnose. When thinking about where to plant your dogwoods, choose sites that are not wet and exposed to the sun.
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