• Betula pendula;
  • Betula pubescens;
  • birch dieback;
  • canker;
  • pathogenicity testing

Marssonina betulae, Discula betulina, Melanconium bicolor and Fusarium avenaceum were inoculated onto shoots of 1- and 2-year-old seedlings of Betula pendula and B. pubescens and symptom development monitored over several seasons. Marssonina betulae caused disease on B. pendula, but not on B. pubescens. On B. pendula symptoms included discrete lesions, which often girdled, causing dieback of inoculated leading shoots, and the development of secondary sunken cankers on the main stems, which were usually centred around a dead sideshoot. Cankers on the main stems expanded during subsequent growing and dormant seasons, and often coalesced, girdling stems and causing the death of some seedlings. All isolates of M. betulae caused disease on B. pendula and conidia were able to infect young shoots in early flush without requiring a wound. Discula betulina caused lesions and dieback on B. pendula and B. pubescens within 3 months of inoculation, but disease did not progress thereafter and all inoculated seedlings recovered. Melanconium bicolor and F. avenaceum caused very little disease on either birch species. This study showed that M. betulae is an aggressive pathogen on B. pendula, causing sunken stem cankers and progressive crown dieback, which are symptoms commonly observed on young, planted birch at field sites across Scotland.