UMass Microbiologist: Expect Mold Damage to Plants, Trees, Crops from Recent Storms

June 7, 2000

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AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts scientist Terry Tattar, the head of the Shade Tree Lab, warns farmers, gardeners, and nature lovers that they can expect to see "all kinds" of mold growing on plants in the region, as a result of the unusual amount of rain that has fallen in recent weeks.

"We might see more and more instances of mold - both aquatic and terrestrial - on strawberries, tobacco, apples, home gardens, and local trees," says Tattar. "A few weeks of rain and cool temperatures have left us with perfect conditions for mold on everything, even trees."

Aquatic molds are close cousins of algae, and actually swim through water to attach to plant material. They thrive in damp places, especially on wet leaves and in waterlogged soils. Terrestrial molds, known as fungi, are spread by airborne spores, and can be a major source of allergies. The two types of mold may appear similar but microbiologists have long known that they are not closely related. Tattar says, "Aquatic molds and fungi are as different as fish and whales."

Tattar says blue mold is an aquatic mold that can be devastating to tobacco plants. "It can simply destroy a big field of shade-grown tobacco. The best way to prevent mold from developing is to build good drainage into fields and to try to keep the crop roots from growing in standing water or waterlogged soils. Of course, when it rains every day, what can you do?"

Terry Tattar can be reached at 413/545-2402, or tattar@microbio.umass.edu.