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Silver leaf

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last updated Apr 3, 2014
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Silver leaf on plum. Image: RHS, Horticultural Science

Silver leaf is a fungal disease of the wood and leaves of some trees, especially plums, apples, apricots and cherries. The fungus infects the wood through wounds and causes a silvering of the leaves followed by death of the branch.

What is silver leaf? Back to top

Silver leaf is a fungal disease caused by Chondrostereum purpureum. It infects through wounds, mainly caused by pruning. Leaf silvering occurs during summer and fruiting bodies form from late summer.

The most commonly affected trees are plums, apples, apricots, almonds, cherries and relatives, hawthorns, roses and poplars. Rhododendron and Laburnum are also attacked, though in neither of these does the silvering symptom develop in the leaves.

Symptoms Back to top

You may see the following symptoms:

  • On leaves: Leaves develop a silvery sheen, especially noticeable in plums but less so in other trees. Following the appearance of the silvery sheen, affected branches die
  • On branches: When the branches are cut across, an irregular dark stain may be seen in the centre, not necessarily corresponding to the heartwood. On older dead branches, bracket-shaped fungi appear. These have a whitish woolly upper surface and a purple-brown lower surface with fine pores
  • On rhododendrons: Long strips of dead bark may spread back from the point of entry

Similar silvering symptoms may sometimes develop as a result of cold, drought or other non-disease forms of stress. This is known as false silver leaf and can be told apart from true silver leaf by the absence of stain in the wood.

Control Back to top

Non-chemical control

Since the fungus produces most of its infectious spores in autumn and winter, prune susceptible plants in summer. Not only are there fewer spores at this season but pruning wounds, the main point of entry for the spores, heal more quickly.

Chemical control

We no longer recommend binding, wrapping or painting pruning cuts; the best thing is to let them heal naturally. However, where silver leaf is a recurring problem, painting wounds of susceptible trees might be the less harmful option.

Laburnum, poplar, prunus and rhododendron are examples of susceptible plants where protective wound paints such as Growing Success Prune and Seal, Bayer Garden Arbrex Seal and Heal or Vitax Medo might be worthwhile.

Biology Back to top

The airborne spores of this fungus are released from the bracket-shaped fruiting bodies found on dead branches. These spores infect healthy branches through wounds, especially pruning cuts. The fungus grows down into the wood and kills it, producing a dark stain. 

The silvery sheen in the leaves is caused by a toxin produced by the fungus and carried upwards in the sapstream to the leaves. This toxin causes the leaf tissues to separate, with the result that an airspace forms, giving the leaf a silvery look. The fungus is not actually present in the leaves, but shortly after the appearance of the silver colour, the branch dies. Fruiting bodies of the fungus grow out later from the dead wood and the cycle starts again.

Spores are released mainly in the autumn and winter months under damp conditions. This is why it is always recommended to prune susceptible trees in summer when silver leaf spores are less abundant.

Quick facts

Common name Silver leaf
Scientific name Chondrostereum purpureum
Plants affected Plums, apples, apricots, cherries, Rhododendron and Laburnum
Main symptoms Silvery leaves
Caused by Fungus
Timing Infectious spores are active from September to May