Issue No. 10, Article 2/May 30, 2008
Loose Smut of Wheat Observed in Illinois
Wheat heads affected by loose smut, caused by the fungus Ustilago tritici, have been observed in southern and central Illinois. Loose smut of wheat is observed as masses of black spores in place of the glumes and kernels on the head. The fungus survives on the embryo of wheat seeds and grows inside the plant after seed germination. Spores from affected heads can be blown onto nonaffected heads and cause infection during wheat flowering.
Wheat head affected by loose smut (photo by C.A. Bradley).
No "in-season" control exists for this disease, as foliar fungicides are not effective in controlling loose smut. Control occurs prior to planting. Varieties with good resistance are available, but the best control is to plant disease-free seed. If loose smut is observed in your field, do not keep the seed for planting. Some systemic seed treatments can help control loose smut as well, but it is always best to start with disease-free seed.Carl A. Bradley
Carl A. Bradley