Crab apple blossoms as a model for research on biological control of fire blight.
Nonseasonal availability of pomaceous flowers could improve laboratory detection and prefield testing of biocontrol agents for fire blight (caused by Erwinia amylovora) of pear and apple. Crab apple was selected as a model because of its high flower productivity on 1-year-old wood, high susceptibility to fire blight and availability from nurseries. Cultivars Manchurian and Snowdrift were manipulated to bloom once by transferring dormant nursery trees from a cold room to a greenhouse and a second time by defoliating trees and applying 1% cytokinin and 0.1% gibberellins to the buds with a brush. Different sets of trees were induced at different times to bloom, so that flowers were produced 12 months in the year. When known bacterial antagonists (Erwinia herbicola strain C9-1 and Pseudomonas fluorescens strain A506) were applied alone or in combination to the stigmas of detached crab apple blossoms prior to inoculation with the pathogen (E. amylovora strain Ea153), population interactions over time were comparable to those reported in previous studies involving pear or apple. In a subsequent series of experiments, the relative effects of 12 bacterial strains on stigmatic populations of strain Ea153 were similar for detached blossoms of crab apple in the laboratory, blossoms of intact crab apple trees in the greenhouse and blossoms of pear and apple in the field (Washington, USA). Additionally, when stigmas of detached crab apple blossoms were inoculated with antagonists (strains C9-1 and A506) and the pathogen, and later subjected to a 24-h wetting period, bacterial populations in the flower hypanthium increased and disease was suppressed. These studies indicate that crab apple blossoms can serve as a suitable model for year-round evaluation and study of biocontrol agents for fire blight.