Tulip Fire

Noni MorrisonMarch 26, 2005

Thanks to Jane in Scotland mentioning this I know now what I have been dealing with! I am so disheartened...all last years tulips have it! Probably 15 hundred tulip bulbs and I was counting on having lots of second year flowers. THey are so icky and now I have to get the diseased bulbs out from amond the other bulbs...alliums, dutch iris, poeticus daffs, lilies.

I read up on it and it is a fungus. IT is spread by exactly the kind of weather we are having..very cool nights with dewey mornings or rain.

Apparently I have to dig up and remove all traces of these tulips and not plant others in the same place for 3 years.

My customers are not going to like this!

I will be able to plant some in the place I had them 4 years ago but it is limited in space....and the daffs I planted then are growing great. Interestingly they look just like the glads that I thought had thrips last year, but the article said that it was specific to tulips. It is a botrytis infection.

I notice that one patch of tulips I planted from Costco last fall has it. They are a bag of mixed early tulips. I shall have to dig them out tomorrow and just when I reallly need early tulips!

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Poochella(7 WA)

Oh Liza, so sorry to hear of your botrytis. What tipped you off that your tulips were stricken? Foliage spots?

That is a complete drag for you, but I know that you are one indudstrious gal and will find a way to make up for the tulip trouble in your bouquets.

When you say it looked just like your glads that had thrips... do you now think it wasn't thrips on those glads?
I'm pretty sure mine were infested with teeny little thrips. I never want to meet them again...

Sorry about the tulips- that is a tragedy.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2005 at 1:44PM
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Noni Morrison

POOCH, it is worrying me how much this tulip fire looks like what happened to my glads. The only thing is that they were in different areas so maybe the two conn\ditions just look similar. I found an article about Tulip FIre after Jane mentioned it and iimmediately recognized it. THe ends of the leaves I atfirst thought they had jsut suffered from frost, but now they are much smaller and distorted. THe leaves are looked like they had been spray painted with some kind of acid that ate through them, and the buds are covered in cankers that turn brown and ugly. THey are about as lovely as....thrip eaten glads. I think I may need a good strong wind blowing away all air mosture but I wouldn't think we had that much in summer last year.

I have a big box of bags of glads from COstco to set out soon so we shall see what this year brings. Hope I don't loose two major bulb crops in one year!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2005 at 6:16PM
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Poor you Liza - I am trying to find how far it can spread but so far no joy. I am paranoid about not walking from one bed to the other in case I spread it. Next year I shall plant my tulips in a different area completely and space them much further apart.
The articles I have read also say to plant after frost - but I am always so disorganised that I always plant late anyway. However the infected bulbs are last year's so I think that it must have just been the high rainfall and muggy autumn.
The first sign is very early twisted tulip shoots - called firestarters or something - which then infect everything else. I wish that I had known that in February when the tulips began to appear ( and I thought - how nice to see signs of life, aren't the tulips early this year - FOOL FOOL!).
Best of luck

    Bookmark   March 27, 2005 at 6:10AM
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Noni Morrison

For further information contact Nancy R. Pataky, Extension Specialist and Director
of the Plant Clinic, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-
University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.
Figure 1. Tulip fire - a primary infector or"firehead".
Note distorted, twisting leaves.
Figure 2. Older, enlarging Botrytis lesions on mature
tulip leaf. Note gray mold (cou rtesy G.W. Simone).
Tulip fire or Botrytis blight is caused by the fungus
Botrytis tulipae. It attacks all parts of the plant and is by
far the most common and serious disease wherever this
popular flower is grown. Once a tulip bed is infested, fire
or Botrytis blight generally becomes more serious in
succeeding crops. The disease commonly follows frost or
hail injury. If not controlled, tulip fire can cause an
almost complete loss of flowers and greatly reduce the
yields of bulbs during cool, wet spring weather. Attacks
are confined to the tulip (Tulipa gesneriana), other Tulipa
species, and hybrid tulips. All commercially grown tulip
cultivars and species are susceptible to some degree.
The first evidence of disease in the spring is usually the
appearance of scattered stunted shoots, called primary
infectors or "fireheads", that emerge with their leaves
twisted, tightly rolled, and blighted (Figure 1). The
weakened shoot often collapses and dies. In damp,
overcast weather a dense grayish mold develops on these
primary infectors. The mold is largely composed of
tremendous numbers of microscopic spores (conidia) of
Botrytis. If the blighted leaves and shoots do manage to
unfold, they are "ragged" and partly withered with a
fuzzy grayish mold forming on diseased parts in moist
weather (Figure 2).
Minute spots soon appear on the leaves of other nearby
tulip plants (Figure 3). These spots are oval to round and
turn yellow to gray-brown, each with a dark, watersoaked
border. Similar, more elongated spots appear on
the stems. In wet weather some leaf lesions enlarge
rapidly and merge, turn whitish gray with a brownish
tinge, and cover a large part or all of a leaf (Figure 4). In
report on
RPD No. 609
March 2000
- 2 -
Figure 3. Botrytis blight or fire
of tulip (British Ministry of
Agriculture photo).
Figure 4. Older, enlarged
Botrytis lesions on m ature tulip
leaf (courtesy, Dr. C.U. Gould,
Washington State Univ.).
dry weather, invaded leaf tissue becomes brittle and is often split and torn by
the wind. Leaf infections may spread into the stem where gray to brown,
depressed, and often zonate spots are formed. Weakened stems often
collapse and die.
Flower buds are spotted. Badly blighted ones fail to open and become
covered with the dense gray mold of Botrytis. Small, whitish, somewhat
blistered spots develop on colored tulip flowers, with light yellow to tan
lesions forming on white petals within 10 hours after infection (Figure 5).
If the weather continues to be damp, the lesions soon enlarge, turn a deeper
brown, and merge. Within a few days, a flower may become completely
blighted. During or following wet weather, blighted flowers are covered
with the typical gray mold.
Shiny, black bodies (sclerotia) the size of a pin head of Botrytis tulipae
develop on or under the outer husk which may be discolored and split. Dark
yellow to brown, round, slightly sunken "scabby" spots commonly form in
the outermost flesh bulb scale. The lesions are usually on the side of the
bulbs, but may occur at the nose or base of the bulb. The minute black
sclerotia may form in the larger scab-like bulb lesions (Figure 6), in tulip
leaves and flower parts rotting on the soil surface, and on flower stems.
Infected stems and/or bulbs may cause leaves to turn reddish to purple
without any spotting.
If damp, the Botrytis fungus may penetrate deeply into the bulb and rot it
completely. Under drier conditions, the bulb lesions become more or less
dormant and the bulb survives until planting time. When planted, such
infected bulbs may rot without growing a shoot, produce a stunted blighted
plant (Figures 1 and 2), or give rise to a healthy plant.
Disease Cycle
The most common source of infection each spring is the stunted and
blighted tulip plants (primary infectors) that have grown from diseased
bulbs accidentally planted with the crop. Other sources of infection arise
from sclerotia of Botrytis tulipae germinating in the soil, decaying tulip
stems, and other plant parts. If tulips are planted in contaminated soil
within two years, there is considerable risk that they will become infected.
Plants that emerge after being infected in the soil are usually less seriously
affected than those arising from infected bulbs, but they also serve as
primary infectors. When an infected bulb produces a healthy shoot, normal development of daughter
bulbs occurs, and the Botrytis fungus can spread to these from the mother bulb. By late spring, the
outermost scale of the daughter bulbs is white and fleshy, later turning brown and dry. If the fungus
penetrates beneath the outer scale at this stage, bulb lesions may form and remain hidden, unless the
brown husks are removed. Daughter bulbs thus infected often escape detection and are replanted in the
fall. The Botrytis fungus can survive in lesions on the outermost white bulb scale and can resume growth
when the bulb is planted. The fungus persists longer under cool and moist conditions, than when they are
stored where it is warm and dry.
- 3 -
Figure 5. Botrytis spots on tulip flower petals.
Figure 6. Infected tulip bulb with scab-like spots and
black sclerotia on outer white scales (courtesy, Dr. C.J.
Gould, Washington State Univ).
The tremendous number of microscopic spores (conidia)
formed on primary infectors are spread by air currents
and splashing raindrops. The spores can germinate and
infect at temperatures not much above freezing. Spore
production, germination, infection, and the resulting
mycelial growth in the infected plant are all more rapid
when the temperatures are higher provided that the
humidity is above 95 percent. These conditions are quite
common in mid to late spring when sharp temperature
drops at night result in heavy dews and when a film of
water is present on aboveground plant parts. Retarding
air movement (i.e., crowded plantings, excessive weeds,
or poor locations) favors infection.
How far the conidia of Botrytis tulipae can be carried by
the wind and still remain capable of causing infection is
not known. It is certain that the spread from one flower
bed to neighboring beds is common. Spores have also
been shown to survive for up to six weeks on the surface
of moist soil at 50°F (10°C). The fungus is active over a
fairly wide temperature range with sporulation occurring
between 41° and 81°F (5-27°C).
1. Purchase only the largest, blemish- and disease-free
bulbs available. Buy from a reputable nursery or
garden supply store.
2. Plant tulips in the same location no oftener than
every third year. The spot should be sunny where air
circulation and soil drainage are good. Remove the
outer brown husks, and discard all spotted, damaged,
or moldy bulbs. Avoid a wet mulch, overwatering and high rates of nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilize
based on a soil test. Keep tulip beds weeded to increase circulation.
3. Dig the bulbs in dry weather and not later than three weeks after the petals have fallen. Remove the
stems and handle the bulbs with care. Infection occurs more easily on bruised and cut bulbs than on
undamaged bulbs.
4. Dry and clean the bulbs promptly after digging and before storing in thin layers in a dry, wellventilated
location. Commercial concerns usually store their bulbs after receiving them in early
autumn at 77°to 81°F (25-27°C) until November 1, and thereafter at 63°F (17°C).
5. Examine all bulbs carefully before storage and again before planting. Discard all diseased, bruised,
and cut ones.
- 4 -
6. When tulips come up in late winter or early spring, carefully remove all infected plants and plant
parts as soon as they are noticed. Place in a paper bag or other covered container, and burn them.
If possible, these important sanitary measures should be done in dry weather when the fungus is not
producing spores.
7. Collect and destroy all leaves, blossoms, and stems as soon as blooming is over. Entire tops should
be cut off an inch or so below the soil surface, removed, and burned.
8. Fungicide sprays are effective as a preventive measure, starting when the leaves emerge from the soil.
Spray several times at 5- to 10-day intervals and continue until the bloom stage. If the weather is
rainy, spray every five days; if conditions are dry, every 10 days. The addition of a half teaspoonful
of liquid household detergent or a commercial spreader-sticker (surfactant) to each gallon of spray
helps to ensure that the foliage will be wetted and that good coverage will be obtained. Fungicide
recommendations are given in the Illinois Pest Control Handbook which is revised each year, and
available at all Illinois Extension offices. Dipping bulbs in a fungicide has given very good control
of fireheads, as has a soil drench at planting time and again just before emergence.
9. When forcing tulips indoors, observe these precautions: water in the morning rather than in the
afternoon; keep water off the foliage; hold the humidity below 90 percent; and avoid forcing the
tulips at too high a temperature. The temperature should be kept as uniform as possible to avoid
condensation (dew) at night. Provide for good air circulation. Promptly remove and destroy all
diseased plants and fading flower heads. Disinfect flats in a fungicide solution and dry before
separating. Do not plant susceptible cultivars close together. Dip bulbs in a recommended fungicide.
Either use fresh soil or pasteurize reused soil. Do not place flats in wet locations during rooting of
the bulbs.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2005 at 11:47AM
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Tulip fire. I've got it--apparently, a mild infestation. 2500 tulips, all at imminent risk. The thing is, I had it from the get-go. Two years ago, when I thought I was starting my cut flower market garden, I planted about 1000 tulips in trenches. I noticed the occasional tulip with a few small spots, but there weren't enough to make me worry--or investigate. (These tulips, by the way, were from Ednie's and Van Engelen.) Our mornings are so wet--daily fog--and our springs so wet, I guess it's possible that this fungus is all-around and my weather conditions gave it a haven. Not sure.

Luckily, I didn't plant tulips last year. First time I've said THAT. So this year's problem won't be overwhelming--the tulips are still saleable--but this means no florist sales. Amazingly enough, we have a first year, VERY SMALL farmer's market in the town square, one town over, this year--it's sort of a recreation of another VERY SMALL market in the same town, begun last year. There was a great write-up about this in our once-weekly paper this Wednesday. I called the organizer, thinking I was going to have a number of smaller tulips not meeting florist grade (now I know why)--and was so pleased with his organization, I signed up. Oh boy, a whole new marketing paradigm I'm NOT PREPARED FOR.

Valerie, looking for lemonade

    Bookmark   April 10, 2005 at 10:12PM
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This must be what mine have. I got them from Scheepers. Rats.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 1:45PM
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Oh no!!! I'm so sorry. If you're not organically inclined, there are some really intense fungicides that are supposed to help control the spread/damage. No question, though, you've got to pull all damaged tulips as soon as they are recognizable. The fungus is both in the soil and on the leaves/flowers, and wind alone will move the fungus through the rest of your bed--just like fire.

If you have a section of bed that's not yet obviously infected, may I make 2 suggestions? A regular spraying campaign with a fungicidal soap, plus regular soil treatment with water soaked in horticultural grade corn meal. The meal attracts a non-damaging fungus that seems to cling to the tulip roots and surrounding soil, out-competing the botrytis. Very interesting studies on this.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 12:23AM
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