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Common Diseases

Interior plants can be affected by diseases.

Infection effects may range from a cosmetic disfigurement to a life-threatening condition that could spread to other plants. Fortunately, plant diseases are rare in most interior landscape situations.

Definition of disease

A plant is regarded as being diseased when there is a harmful deviation from normal functioning of physiological processes. (Federation of British Plant Pathologists, 1973). This definition is very wide ranging and includes conditions such as those caused by environmental factors or nutritional disorders. For the purposes of this Information Leaflet, disease relates only to those conditions caused by pathogens infecting plants.

A pathogen is a parasite that causes a disease. And a parasite is an organism or virus living in or on another living organism (the host) from which it takes materials it requires for growth without giving any benefit in return. Infection is the establishment of a parasitic relationship. All the important diseases that infect interior landscape plants are generally caused by infection by species of fungi, bacteria or viruses, although other organisms can also cause diseases.

Identifying plant diseases

Plant diseases can be identified by examining the plant symptoms. However, many diseases show similar symptoms. You can often narrow down the possibilities to a small number. Laboratory cultures are able to confirm the correct disease. The following table describes some of the commonest symptoms of plant diseases.



Literally means ‘little coal’ and describes small, black spots found on leaves and shoots.

Example: Anthracnose symptoms on Dieffenbachia.



The rapid killing of leaves, stems and flowers.

Example: Phytophthora leaf blight of taro (Colocasia esculenta)



Large, irregular shaped spots and blots on leaves, shoots and stems.

Example: Leaf blotches on Syngonium podophyllum



Necrotic, sometimes sunken, lesion on the stem or branch of a plant.

Example: Citrus canker.



Yellowing of normally green tissue by the destruction of chlorophyll. Usually the result of nutritional or environmental disorders but may be caused by some viruses.

Example: Chlorosis of a leaf due to insufficient levels of iron.



Progressive destruction of shoots and branches, starting at the tips. Dieback may be caused by physical damage, such as from pruning, or may sometimes be caused by acid rain, heavy metal pollution or imported pathogens.

Example: Phomopsis dieback.



Liquid or gummy discharge from a lesion, often stems and petioles.

Example: Gliocladium blight of palms often produces a gummy exudate.



Leaf galls are fairly common on trees and shrubs. A gall is actually plant tissue that has developed as the result of feeding or other activity of insects or mites.

Example: Oak Apple gall.

Leaf spot

Leaf spot

A self-limiting lesion on a leaf. Can refer to any of a large number of fungal, bacterial, or viral plant diseases which cause leaves to develop discoloured spots.

Example: Leaf spot caused by a fungal disease.



A fungal disease in which the mycelium and spores are visible as a white or grey growth on the surface of plant tissues.

Example: Powdery mildew caused by a fungus.



Softening, discolouration and disintegration of soft tissue, often accompanied by foul odours.

Example: Soft rot of Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig Compacta’ caused by bacteria.

Further Information

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