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: