Cephalosporium stripe or fungus leaf stripe is a disease
of winter cereals that is sporadic in its distribution and occurrence
but can cause severe yield losses when it occurs. A major disease
in Washington in the 1950s when 'Brevor' was widely planted,
it subsided in importance with the development of 'Gaines' and
'Nugaines.' Now the disease is a problem again because of repeated
planting of certain high yielding but susceptible cultivars.
The disease is found most consistently in areas of eastern Washington
where frost heaving, resulting from fluctuating winter temperatures,
heavier soils, and higher soil moisture, damages roots.
Cephalosporium stripe is caused by Hymenula
cerealis (synonym Cephalosporium gramineum). This
fungus is slow growing in culture and probably in nature too.
It produces tiny conidia on sporodochia in the saprophytic stage
on wheat straw, but as a parasite it invades the vascular system,
where it interferes with water movement. It is the only true
vascular parasite known to attack wheat.
Cephalosporium gramineum attacks most winter
cereals but especially winter wheat. It invades several grasses
(Bromus, Dactylis, Poa) and probably was indigenous to
the region in native grasses.
Symptoms and Signs
Cephalosporium stripe is first observed in
the spring as distinct yellow stripes on leaf blades, sheaths
and stems. The stripes may contain thin, brown streaks (necrotic
vascular tissues) surrounded by yellow. Frequently, a yellow
stripe on the leaf blade continues as a single brown line down
the leaf sheath (Photo 15). Nodes are darker than normal on diseased
plants, and when cut lengthwise, the inner nodal tissue is brown
in color. Plants are stunted and the heads are white and sterile.
If any seed is set, it is usually shriveled. Diseased plants
have a scorched appearance when hot weather accentuates moisture
The fungus survives for as long as 4 to 5 years in undecomposed
infested straw. Survival is enhanced by fungal production of
antibiotic substances. Conidia, the primary inoculum, are produced
on infested plant debris. The fungus enters wheat plants through
wounds. Circumstantial evidence, such as escape from infection
by spring-seeded cereals, suggests that roots broken by frost
heaving constitute an important means of entry. The fungus then
grows into and develops in the vascular system, where it can
extend for several internodes up the stem. Heavy, wet soils and
soils low in pH favor incidence of Cephalosporium.
Cultural. Early seeding produces a more extensive
root system going into the winter, and larger root systems are
more likely to be damaged when the soil moves during heaving.
Delayed seeding results in plants with a smaller root system
less prone to such damage, but smaller plants are less winter-hardy
and cover less soil for erosion prevention.
Minimum tillage leaves more infested straw on the soil surface,
thus delaying straw decomposition and slowing inoculum destruction.
Destroying straw by burning or by deep plowing (Table 5) reduces
the amount of inoculum, but both practices run counter to soil
conservation concerns. Studies in Kansas have shown that lime
applied to low-pH soil reduces Cephalosporium stripe incidence.
In Washington, recent disease outbreaks in previously unaffected
dry areas are believed to be partly the result of a decline in
soil pH due to continual use of ammonium-based fertilizers and
the planting of susceptible cultivars.
Table 5. Effect of residue management on the incidence of
Cephalosporium stripe in Kansas. Adapted from Bockus,
W. W., J.P. O'Conner, and P.J. Raymond. 1983. Plant Disease 67:1323-1324.
*It should be noted that in the cited text
there was no apparent significant difference in yield among these
In areas where Cephalosporium stripe is a consistent
problem, rotation out of winter grain for at least 3 years-2
full years between winter grain-must be practiced for adequate
control. Grow either legumes or spring grains instead. If spring
barley is planted, do not allow volunteers to go through the
winter, since the fungus can carry through on the barley (or
other grass) without producing visible symptoms.
Resistance. In addition to rotating crops, growers
need to plant tolerant cultivars (Table 6). 'Nugaines,' Luke,'
and 'Lewjain' are the most tolerant of the commercial cultivars
now available, in part because they have a high tillering capacity;
some tillers can escape infection even though several stems may
be infected. Avoid susceptible cultivars where the disease is
a problem. 'Stephens' is among the most susceptible along with
'Hyslop' and 'McDermid.'
Table 6. Relative tolerance of major Washington wheat varieties
to Cephalosporium stripe.* From the annual Winter Wheat
Seed Buying Guide of the Washington State Crop Improvement Association.
*Only those varieties likely to be grown
in areas where Cephalosporium stripe is common are included in
** The index value is based on empirical observations
of test plots established throughout eastern Washington. 1 =
low tolerance (very poor); 5 = medium; 10 = high tolerance (good);-data
Bruehl, G.W., T.D. Murray and R.E. Allan. 1986. Resistance of
winter wheats to Cephalosporium stripe in the field. Plant Disease
Love, C.S., and G.W. Bruehl. 1987. Effect of soil pH on Cephalosporium
stripe in wheat. Plant Disease 71: 727-731.
Other Interesting Cephalosporium
University of Nebraska-Lincoln NebGuide describes the symptoms
and causes of this disease, which can seriously reduce yields,
and provides methods for its control.
Diseases * Barley
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Grains Home * Grow Serve
Edited and reviewed by Ed Adams, WSU Extension Plant Pathologist
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