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Pests Diseases of Grasstrees

Pests Diseases of Grasstrees

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Department of Agriculture and Food

Note: 425

April 2010

Pests and diseases of grass trees
By Christine Castalanelli and Harald Hoffmann, Biosecurity Communications; Marc Widmer Entomology and Peter Wood Plant Pathology

Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii)

The harvesting of grass trees for landscaping has become very popular in recent times as these unique specimens compliment both formal and informal gardens. The common grass tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii) is endemic to Western Australia and grows naturally in sand, loam or gravelly soils to a height of four metres. They have a lifespan of up to 600 years with a growth rate of only 1–2 cm per year. Under the Environment

Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), it is an offence to take native vegetation including grass trees from public lands or state forests. Permits are required for commercial salvaging where the site has been approved for urban or industrial development. Land owners wishing to harvest grass trees from their property, must comply with State and Commonwealth legislation.

Important disclaimer
The Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Agriculture and Food and the State of Western Australia accept no liability whatsoever by reason of negligence or otherwise arising from the use or release of this information or any part of it.

For more information visit www.agric.wa.gov.au

Mussel scale on Xanthorrhoea

Structure
The trunk is composed of a mass of old leaf bases held together by natural resin which can take 10 years before it begins to form. The centre of the trunk is filled with a fibrous material. The needle like foliage reduces moisture loss during periods of hot weather which makes the tree drought resistant. The root system is shallow with the main purpose being for anchorage. Surrounding the roots are microbes called mycorrhiza fungi which are essential for nutrient uptake in deficient soils and also protect roots against some pathogen fungi.

Common pests
Scale Scale insects are sap-suckers which have either a waxy or armoured covering. Juvenile scales (crawlers) disperse to favourable sites on the leaf and start feeding. The crawlers eventually become immobile, and start building their protective covers, but are still sucking the needles. This activity, if left unchecked, may eventually kill the

grass tree. Control scale with an application of white oil, but not during hot weather as this may burn the plant. Mealybugs Mealybugs often have a number of overlapping generations per year. Their development is dependent on temperatures above 25°C with high humidity. After hatching, the juveniles (crawlers) search for suitable feeding sites in sheltered areas. Control is best achieved in late October at crawler stage with a systemic insecticide such as Imidacloprid. Populations reach peaks during spring and autumn. Bardi grubs (Bardistus cibarius) The term ‘Bardi grub’ is used to describe the larva of the Longicorn beetle (Bardistus cibarius), but may also apply to other native boring larvae. A decaying trunk or a thick ‘skirt’ of dead foliage provides the perfect environment for attack by these native borers and wood boring moths. The female moth lays her eggs into this foliage and the emerging grubs bore their way into the fibrous

centre of the tree. This damage disrupts the tissue that carries water and nutrients to the crown. In severe infestations the tree will rot and fall over. There is no registered chemical control, but burning of excess foliage (thatch) every 3–4 years will make this an unsuitable haven for pests. Burning off does little damage to the green crown, as it actually promotes growth as it would in a natural fire.

Common diseases
Root Disease Root rot (Phytophthora cinnamonni) This fungal pathogen causes the roots to rot, preventing the grass tree to take up water and nutrients. It is usually present in damp or poorly drained soils but will also survive drought. As a result the central leaves wilt and turn brown, causing the crown to collapse and the trunk to rot. Phosphorous acid sprays can be applied in the early stages of decline. However as the disease may be present without showing symptoms, sometimes control is not successful. Phytophthora may be in existing soil as a dormant spore or it can be introduced into the home garden via

contaminated soil. There have been examples of Phytophthora moving through the soil water from a higher elevated garden, to another garden at a lower level some distance away affecting a variety of susceptible plants such as roses and conifers. The Department of Agriculture and Food (Agwest Plant Laboratories 9368 3721) can test soil samples for a fee. Foliage disease There are few foliar pathogens recorded for Xanthorrhoeas. The plants have adapted to dry conditions by having thick waxy needles to prevent water loss, as well as acting as a barrier to fungal attack. Foliar leaf spot pathogens are more common on the coastal plains than further inland.

Anthracnose (Colletotrichum xanthorrhoeae)
Symptoms are first visible as black flecks in the leaf tissue. These flecks develop to encompass the entire leaf and will spread to the rest of the crown. Apply mancozeb to protect leaves from further infection. However, if the disease has progressed too far, control may be ineffective.

Bardi grubs on Xanthorrhoea

Colletotrichum xanthorrhoeae on Xanthorrhoea preissii

Other factors contributing to decline • Run-off from lawn phosphates into garden beds • Transplant shock can in some cases take months to appear and is more prevalent during the summer months • Insufficient drainage in clay soils causing waterlogging • Mulching too close to trunk • Drought stress • Saline bore water A good indication to determine if the tree is to survive, is to pull gently at the centre needles. If they come away, this indicates the crown is rotting and unfortunately there is no remedy. In some cases burning the ‘skirt’ will promote growth as mentioned previously.

References:
Shivas, RG, Bathgate, J and Podger , FD 1998, Colletotrichum xanthorrhoeae sp.nov.on xanthorrhoea in Western Australia , Mycological Research, volume 102 (3): 280-282 Specimen identification requirements When sending or delivering samples, the following information is required: • Collector’s name, location (where the specimen was found), full address, telephone number and e-mail address, description of the damage and date collected. Department of Agriculture and Food Pest and Disease Information Service 3 Baron-Hay Court, South Perth WA 6151 Freecall: 1800 084 881 E-mail: info@agric.wa.gov.au
ISSN 0726-934X

20102576-4/10-ID10437 Copyright © Western Australian Agriculture Authority, 2010 Copies of this document are available in alternative formats upon request. 3 Baron-Hay Court South Perth WA 6151 Tel: (08) 9368 3333 Email: enquiries@agric.wa.gov.au Website: www.agric.wa.gov.au

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