A method is described for identifying and quantifying three soft rot erwinias directly from plant tissue and from other sources that is particularly useful in epidemiological studies. Colonies of these bacteria form characteristic deep cavities on selective-diagnostic crystal violet pectate (CVP) medium. Bacteria from individual presumptive erwinia colonies on CVP plates spot inoculated on plates of CVP medium with or without erythromycin (35 μg/ml) added and incubated at 27, 33°5 and 37°C can be identified according to the pattern of cavity formation. Erwinia carotovora pv. atroseptica forms the characteristic cavities only at 27°C and E. carotovora pv. carotovora at 27 and 33.5°C but not at 37°C on CVP with or without erythromycin. Erwinia chrysanthemi forms cavities at all temperatures and can also be identified by failure to grow at 27°C on CVP with erythromycin. Similarly, erwinias in mixed populations can be quantified by dilution plating on CVP with or without erythromycin and incubating at the different temperatures. Using this method, ca 80% of 183 erwinia strains in a culture collection were correctly identified, the precision increasing to over 95% when recently isolated erwinia strains were examined.