Tracing the origins of White Tip disease of Cirsium arvense and its causal agent, Phoma macrostoma


K Bailey, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, 107 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 0X2. Tel: (+1) 1 306 956 7260; Fax: (+1) 1 306 956 7247; E-mail:


Cirsium arvense (Asteraceae) is known as creeping thistle in its native range in the UK and Canada thistle in its invasive North American range. Recently, the fungus Phoma macrostoma was registered in Canada as a bioherbicide in turfgrass, where it causes severe chlorosis (White Tip disease) and death of C. arvense and other broadleaved weeds. It was hypothesised that the disease originated in the UK on its thistle host and, therefore, that fungal isolates from both countries should be biologically and genetically similar. Twenty-six strains in the genus Phoma– isolated during surveys in the UK – were compared morphologically with the type culture of P. macrostoma, tested for bioherbicidal activity using the inoculum mat bioassay and genetically screened with bioherbicide-specific primers. White tip disease was found to be restricted to the eastern and southern counties of England. Phoma macrostoma was isolated consistently from diseased bleached tissues. Bioherbicidal isolates of P. macrostoma occupy a unique clade, which is phylogenetically distinct but morphologically indistinguishable from the type culture. Most isolates from the UK had the same bioherbicidal activity and similar genetic make-up as strain SRC 94-44B, the active ingredient in the registered Canadian product. The origin of all bioherbicidal strains found to date has a clear presence in both Canada and the UK, with strong genetic similarities, supporting the view of a common ancestry. Thus, on the evidence presented, the ‘white tip’ clade of P. macrostoma evolved in southern England. Therefore, the bioherbicide based on strain SRC 94-44B should also be eligible for registration in the UK, based on the pest risk assessment data already available.