Insights into the potential host range of Phytophthora foliorum.
During a survey for Phytophthora ramorum undertaken in north-west Scotland in early 2016, Phytophthora foliorum was found infecting foliage of the invasive shrub Rhododendron ponticum. Prior to this, P. foliorum had only been reported from foliage of hybrid azaleas in nurseries in California and Tennessee and from azalea plants in an ornamental nursery in Spain. No other hosts were known, and much of the behaviour of P. foliorum remained enigmatic. The species is classified in Phytophthora Clade 8c, with closest relatives, P. ramorum and Phytophthora lateralis, both of which are highly damaging tree pathogens. To explore the threat that P. foliorum might pose to trees, its growth-temperature responses on agar media and ability to cause lesions in the living bark of various hosts were contrasted with the behaviours of P. ramorum and P. lateralis. Phytophthora foliorum proved faster growing and more tolerant of temperature extremes than the other Phytophthora species. Comparisons of bark colonization initially focussed on R. ponticum and larch species Larix decidua and Larix kaempferi as all three are significant hosts of P. ramorum in the UK. Further experiments included another P. ramorum host, Fagus sylvatica (European beech), and the main host of P. lateralis, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson cypress). Findings suggested that as well as being a significant pathogen of R. ponticum, damage caused by P. foliorum to both species of larch and beech was very similar to that of the EU1 lineage of P. ramorum, although growth in host tissue was also influenced by season.