Saturday, 14 June 2014

Botanists to the rescue II: mildewed leaves wanted!

Powdery mildew on Lamium purpureum
Image: O. Ellingham
We've had a request from BSBI member Waheed Arshad, asking for help from fellow botanists. Waheed has featured on these pages before, whether exhibiting at the AEM last year, taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt or using social media to talk about his volunteering in the Herbarium at Kew and on the RHS Help Desk at RHS Chelsea. Did I mention that he is also a student on the MSc in Plant Diversity at University of Reading, under the legendary Dr M?

Excuse the preamble, but when an all-round botanical good egg asks for help with a project, it's so great to read about the project and think yup, that's something our members will be interested in and may want to help with.

Powdery mildew on Geranium leaf
Image: O. Ellingham
Waheed says: "The RHS and University of Reading are working together to identify and map as many powdery mildews as possible over the next two growing seasons. As part of my Master's research project, I am working with PhD student Oliver Ellingham on the development of molecular markers for the identification of the pathogen on plant material. These molecular analyses will be compared with microscopic, morphological characters so that their success (or failure!) can be assessed. 

"The involvement of plant enthusiasts sending in as much infected material as possible will be an important component of the project – helping us track, diagnose and explore the diversity of such a widespread plant disease. This is where BSBI members (and non-members!) can help us enormously by looking for powdery mildews while botanising in the wild, but also in their gardens too. Should members find some infected plant material, we would be most grateful if this could be sent to us and, in exchange, we will do our best to identify the mildew species that is infecting the plant. 

Powdery mildew on Myosotis arvensis
Image: O. Ellingham
"Details of what would be required are listed in this handy article, written by Oli" - who adds that powdery mildews have "huge economic effects due to losses of important crops". 

Waheed continues "For the purposes of our study, knowing whether the material is wild or cultivated is not something we are necessarily interested in. However, if people could provide a GPS location (or grid reference) and a photograph of the plant in growth, this would be most helpful when we map the distribution of the material. Analysing specimens from around Britain and Ireland will be extremely useful to us, and both Oli and I greatly appreciate BSBI's help with this".

If you have any questions, you can email Oli (O.H.Ellingham@pgr.reading.ac.uk) or Waheed (w.arshad@student.reading.ac.uk). Powdery mildews can be seen now, and Waheed will be collecting data over the next few weeks, then moving on to DNA extraction and analysis, whereas Oli will welcome specimens for at least another year.