The voicemail from the PA Department of Ag was brief and to the point: “We would like to come by on Monday afternoon to take a look at your Gutherie Procums.” I’m a gardener, not a botanist, so the first questions that popped into my mind were what is Gutherie Procums, is it a restricted or endangered plant that I have on my hands, how did it wind up in the garden, and who told the Department of Agriculture that I was growing it?
A follow up call revealed that the plant in question goes by the common name of Wintergreen, and yes I had recently purchased a dozen small plugs of this evergreen berry to plant in the landscape. It turns out that the nursery that I bought the plants from had tested positive for Phytophthora ramorum, a pathogen responsible for the Sudden Oak Death Disease.
Phytophthora ramorum Causes Sudden Oak Death Disease
Sudden Oak Death has caused extensive damage to trees out west in California and Oregon, there have been no outbreaks here in PA and the two Department of Ag plant inspectors that paid me a visit are determined to keep it that way. They were all business as they inspected each plant and grilled me on the handling of the wintergreen plugs.
Their questions included; had the plants been moved after the initial plantings? What did I do with the packaging that the plants arrived in? What other plants did I purchase from the same nursery? They were very careful not to touch anything and took detailed notes on what they found. It all made me wonder about what I might have done right after casually handling those same plants when I received and planted them!
Everything went smoothly until they came upon one particular plant that even to my untrained eye appeared to look just a bit funky. There were some spots, dark sunken areas, and this poor little wintergreen just didn’t appear as healthy and vibrant as all the others. That’s when things became a little more serious and out came the gloves, sampling instruments, and specimen bags for the lab.
Quarantine in the Veggie Gardening Tips Proving Grounds
So one of my wintergreen plants is currently being tested and under my own unofficial quarantine. It was suspicious alright, but not the classic signs of the disease so the Dept of Ag decided to take the additional precautions of lab testing a sample just in case. I thought to myself that losing one wintergreen plant wouldn’t be a big deal… that was before I noticed their attention shift to one of my blueberry bushes.
I tried to explain that the few dried, shriveled, leaves were normal for that blueberry and was probably just a little heat stress, but they were hearing none of my explanation and proceeded to take lab samples from one of my favorite, and largest, blueberry bushes… another plant that just happens to be a host for Phytophthora ramorum!
In addition to the wintergreen plants my nursery order also contained an aronia, cranberry, chernika, and emerald carpet raspberry plants. The only one that they seemed interested in was the cranberry so off we went to visit the bog garden where the cranberry had been planted. They were impressed by the huge pitcher plants but didn’t discover anything of concern related to the cranberry plant.
Still Waiting for Results of the Lab Tests to Come Back
It’s been a few weeks since the inspection and I suppose that no news is a good sign. They warned that they would return to destroy any infected plant and perform additional testing if the labs revealed anything suspicious. I’m glad to know that the commercial nurseries and state departments of agriculture take these matters seriously and have processes in place to follow up when the situations warrant.
Evidently there were four or five other instances of gardeners within the state who had also purchased wintergreen plants from the same nursery. A couple of those had already been tested and checked out okay. After the inspection I received a letter from the nursery explaining that only one of their plants had tested positive, that they had taken the necessary precautions, and that it was highly unlikely that my plants were affected.
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