12th December 2019

Scientists Save Christmas

A research team from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has discovered a new species of Phytophora - or water mold - which is killing Fraser firs, a type of natural Christmas tree popular across North America and Europe.

The team of scientists found the Fraser fir in their experiment were prone to developing root rot diseases which killed the trees within three years of being planted. The research conducted in the lab then confirmed that the mold behind the root rot is a new species of water mold which could be detrimental to the Fraser firs planted for holiday seasons to come.

In their experiment, the researchers in Connecticut planted 900 trees, 60 of which were all Fraser firs. Within just three years, all of the 60 Fraser firs in the field had died, prompting the scientists to further investigate a potential common cause for these deaths.

In a new but related experiment, the experts replanted 5-year old Fraser fir seedlings in 2015 to investigate in the lab, 10 of which were presumed to be infected by water mold due to discoloration of foliage of the Christmas tree. Once in the lab, the team stumbled on the water mold causing the root rot.

This research on a new species of water mold suggests there could be many other of such species just waiting to be discovered. Being aware of the rich biodiversity that could affect Christmas trees is important, as transportation of infected nursery plants can introduce hybrids of water molds due to cross encounters between the different types of species.

Rich Cowles, a scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station part of the study, said, “Knowing how many and which species are present is important, not only for Christmas tree growers, but also for protecting our natural environment.”

Thanks to Science, we have one less threat to Christmas to worry about!


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