The First Workshop


  • Workshops
  • Phytophthora
  • Kirstenbosch
  • Citizen Science

Our first workshop was offered on February 16-17, 2016 to the protea garden staff at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. We expect to offer similar workshops every month in different locations throughout the Western Cape Province starting in May or June. Anyone will be welcome to attend and participate.

At this workshop we were fortunate to be in a beautiful area with a few examples of plant diseases. In future workshops, the organizer will likely bring plant samples showing symptoms of disease for participants to capture their own pathogens.

Workshops will generally include a short presentation about recognizing plant disease with an activity introducing the scientific process for identifying the cause of the disease. Activities to capture and culture Phytophthora species will also occur, with the cultures being included in the research.

Why are we interested in Phytophthora species? See this previous blog post for an introduction:




Two presentations were given during the first workshop, on separate days, provided below.

After the presentations, we walked around the garden and surrounding vegetation to observe symptoms and collect samples of a few dying plants. Below is a declining silver tree that we sampled.

Although it is difficult to see in the below image, we collected tissues from the blood red and brown discolored lesions present under the bark of the silver tree.

After we collected chips from the bark and inner tissues of the silver tree, we cut them into smaller pieces and placed them in a petri-plate for the microbe to grow. The petri-plate contains a agar based 'medium' that also includes a few antibiotics that prohibit bacteria from growing and help select for Phytophthora species.

After a few days of allowing the microorganisms to grow in the petri-plates, we remove a small piece of the agar and place it on another petri-plate to generate a petri-plate with only one organism growing, referred to as a pure culture. Once the culture is pure, we can work to identify whether it is a species of Phytophthora or from a different group.

On many occasions, more than one organism grows from the plant material originally placed on the petri-dish; in this case, we have to be careful to create seperate pure cultures. It makes it difficult to determine which organism is actually responsible for the disease, requiring further research; but collectively, with many samples, we should be able to tell an accurate story about the situation.

A major objective of this project is to raise awareness about invasive species. Invasive species seriously threaten the biodiversity in the fynbos biome.  They are not limited to plants or animals, microorganisms can be invasive too!

Detecting the arrival of a new microorganism is critical for controling invasive species. We need to act quickly! Thus, we are asking citizens in the Western Cape Province to report any dying plants they come across in the fynbos, their farms, or their gardens. You can report dying plants here:


Hunt'n Pathogens w/ Se7en


  • Citizen Science
  • Kirstenbosch
  • Phytophthora
  • Se7en
  • Engagement

We had an incredible time hunting pathogens in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden with a group of home school students (Se7en) in early November. The students were avid learners and natural citizen scientists, contributing much excitement to the afternoon's research extravaganza.

We spent the afternoon with two of the garden managers who have been battling root rot pathogens—microorganisms that attack plant roots and cause disease. The managers were kind enough to save some of the diseased plants for us to sample. Below are a few photos of us collecting plant samples. Each student collected at least one sample.

A citizen scientist using a knife to expose a lesion likely caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi. When isolating Phytophthora, we tried to collect pieces along the margin of living and dying tissue, because this was where the pathogens were still active. It was also critical to sterilize equipment/tools in between samples, to ensure we were not spreading the pathogens or contaminating our samples. 

We sterilized our tools in between samples by dipping the blades in ethanol and heating them with a lighter. Bleach or rubbing alcohol would also work. It was fun, but also educational!

We collected samples of leaves, stems, and roots for many different plant species present within the Proteaceae garden. Everyone had collected at least one sample by the end of the afternoon.

After collecting samples of dying plants, the next step was to try to isolate a species of Phytophthora. Phytophthora are not the only microbes causing disease in the fynbos, but it is the group that we are focusing on for our research. Phytophthora species cause serious issues around the world (e.g. Sudden Oak Death and the late blight of potato), and there is a lot to be learned about them in the fynbos. For more information about Phytophthora, see our previous blog post:

To isolate Phytophthora from our dying plant samples, we cut small pieces along the disease margin and placed them into selective agar media. This media has all of the nutrients that Phytophthora need, as well as some antibiotics to prevent growth of other fungi we are not interested in.

After we place the plant tissue pieces in the selective agar media, we watch carefully and replate the organisms that look like Phytophthora until we have a pure culture. Sometimes it takes many isolations before we have a pure Phytophthora culture.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please contact us if you would like to organize a similar activity! Special thanks to Se7en and the managers at Kirstenbosch for a epic afternoon!

If you would like to see the activity from Se7en's perspective, you can see their incredible blog post about the afternoon here!

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