30 October 1998

Halloween: Trick or Treat?

Halloween lovers everywhere are pondering purchases of that perfect pumpkin to carve into a grinning or ghoulish jack-o-lantern. But, beware, new microbes are gobbling up those bright orange pumpkins.

Researchers reported in the May 1998 issue of the journal Plant Disease that a new disease, called "yellow vine," was attacking pumpkins and related crops in Oklahoma and Texas. Dr. Benny Bruton determined that yellow vine was caused by a rod-shaped bacterium that inhabits the phloem or food conducting tissues.

Now another new disease has appeared on pumpkins and related cucurbit vegetables in New York. "Pumpkins affected by this unidentified disease began going down in several areas of New York in August," says Thomas Zitter, Cornell professor of plant pathology.

This mysterious disease is unrelated to the Texas/Oklahoma disease, although both are characterized by yellowing between the veins followed by death of the leaves, withering and vine collapse. New York plant samples sent to Dr. Bruton for inspection were not infected by the same bacterium. "We will continue our efforts to identify this new antagonist and provide consumers with healthy plants to eat and enjoy," says Zitter. Both Bruton and Zitter are plant pathologists and members of the American Phytopathological Society (APS).

So, what can you expect when you arrive at your favorite pumpkin patch this fall? There still will be plenty of pumpkins in a plenitude of sizes for you to pick. Pumpkin acreage has more than doubled in the last ten years and diseases are kept in check by the research efforts of plant pathologists throughout the United States.