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Horse chestnut bleeding canker

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last updated Apr 2, 2013
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Horse chestnut bleeding canker. Image: RHS, Horticultural Science

Horse chestnut bleeding canker is a disease of the bark of horse chestnut. It causes cankers (bark infections) which bleed a dark or reddish brown sticky fluid.

What is horse chestnut bleeding canker? Back to top

Bleeding canker is an infection of the bark of horse chestnut by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi and several species of the fungus-like micro-organism Phytophthora, which causes the affected bark to bleed a dark sticky fluid.

It is specific to horse chestnuts and both the white flowered Aesculus hippocastanum and the red A. × carnea are affected.

Cankers can be seen at any time of year.

Symptoms Back to top

You may see the following symptoms:

  • Dark or reddish-brown sticky liquid oozing from cracks in the bark where the infections occur. In dry weather, this dries out to form a black deposit
  • Cutting away the outer bark over infected areas will reveal a brown or purple discoloured area of inner bark, with a diffuse edge if the infection is still spreading and a sharply defined edge if it is stable. Healthy inner bark is a white or pinkish colour
  • On older cankers, the dead bark may fall away to expose the wood

The effect on the tree is variable. Some infections last for years, more or less stable, and with little effect on the crown. Others spread rapidly and cause crown thinning, die-back and even death of part or all of the tree.

Control Back to top

Non-chemical control

  • Some infections stabilise, so do not immediately resort to removal but keep affected trees under observation
  • If the tree’s condition continues to deteriorate, consider removing it because it may be a source of infection for other horse chestnuts
  • Burn the affected material if possible, rather than composting or chipping
  • Disinfect tools with a product such as Jeyes Fluid after use
  • Consider raising horse chestnuts in situ from seed, to avoid the risk of importing the disease on infected plants. Neither pathogen is likely to be seed borne

Chemical control

There is no chemical control currently available.

Biology Back to top

Several species of the fungus-like micro-organism Phytophthora have long been known to cause cankers (bark infections) in horse chestnut, though cases were relatively uncommon. But in recent years there has been an upsurge in cases where Phytophthora could not be detected. Recent work in the UK and the Netherlands has established that the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi is the cause of these new cases.

The bleeding fluid is produced by the tree in response to the infection, which kills the inner bark, cambium and outer layers of wood, causing disruption to water and nutrient transport. If the canker girdles the stem, the stem dies.

Research on the bacterium is still in progress. It may require wounds to infect (which may include naturally occurring lenticels, or pores, in the bark) or might exist on plant surfaces and be spread by wind-blown rain. Phytophthora spreads in a similar way and also forms resting spores which can remain for long periods in the soil.

Quick facts

Common name Horse chestnut bleeding canker
Scientific name Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi and several Phytophthora spp.
Plants affected Aesculus hippocastaneum and A. x carnea
Main symptoms Cankers oozing a dark sticky fluid
Caused by Bacterial and fungal pathogens
Timing Cankers seen all year round
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