Thursday, October 11, 2007

These Plants Need Some Chicken Soup

I'm taking a plant pathology class this quarter (my only class, and I'm taking it Pass/Fail, but still, where does the time go?). We went on a field trip to see some diseased plants at the Horticulture and Agronomy field sites off campus a few weeks ago and I took some pictures, in an attempt to supply myself with visual aids.

Plant pathology is basically the study of plant diseases, and it encompasses mainly those caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Maybe I'm a plant nerd (I guess that's undeniable) but I think it's really cool, and some of the diseases are incredibly fascinating and even quite beautiful. Here are some examples:

Powdery mildew on strawberry leaves - caused by the fungus Podosphaera aphanis

Botrytis fruit rot on a strawberry - caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. There were plenty of non-diseased strawberries in this field too, and many of them made it into my mouth.

Leaf roll on grape leaves - caused by a grape leafroll virus (clever name). This one is really interesting because the virus interferes with the plant's phloem, so it can't transfer sugar from the leaves (where it's made via photosynthesis) to the rest of the plant. The sugar gets stuck in the leaves and discolors them and makes them feel stiff and hard.

A different type of powdery mildew on grape berries (a technical term, I know, weird) - caused by the fungus Uncinula necator.

Common smut of corn - caused by the fungus Ustilago maydis. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww (snickersnicker, "smut," snickersnicker).

The idea that there is beauty in death and disease is not new. Although some of these diseases are disgusting, they are also incredibly complex and vital parts of life on Earth. Disease is natural, though agriculture has led to unnatural patterns and resistance, but that's another story. One of my favorite photographers, Irving Penn, makes photos of dying flowers that are as thought-provoking as they are beautiful. Of course I can't find a single one to show you right now, but check him out in the library or the bookstore.


GentleWhoadie9000 said...

corn smut was actually a delicacy in the part of mexico that i lived in. it was called huitlacoche. never tried it though.

muffintop said...

All four of my zuke plants this summer got a kind of powdery mildes: speckles on the tops of the leaves, and a total spray of white on the undersides. And the leaves turned crunchy.
The upside is, after I had had my fill of zucchini, the plants kindly died.
(The eggplant right next to the zukes was totally immune.)