Late blight, a disease of solanaceous plants caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans — the same disease that was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine — has infected tomato plants causing them to be removed from Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Kmart stores in all six New England states, plus New York, reports AP.
Meg McGrath, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, calls late blight “worse than the Bubonic Plague for plants.” Late blight also has been identified in all other East Coast states except Georgia, as well as Alabama, West Virginia and Ohio, McGrath said. “People need to realize this is probably one of the worst diseases we have in the vegetable world,” she said. “It’s certain death for a tomato plant.”
Experts say the disease can spread on garden center shelves to plants not involved in the initial infection. Late blight is only harmful to plants but is extremely contagious; tomato and potato plants in both home gardens and commercial fields are at risk. “It is too early in the season to know whether infected plants will taint large crops or negatively affect commercial growers. But if that happens, growers could be forced to raise prices to cover costs associated with combating the disease”.
The symptoms are brown spots on plant stems, followed by nickel-sized olive-green or brown spots on the tops of leaves and fuzzy white fungal growth underneath. Tomato fruit will show firm, brown spots. Experts recommend removing and destroying the plants to prevent spores from traveling.