Powdery Mildew Resistance

All original research data (including graphics, photos and text) presented on these web pages are preliminary and are provided for the benefit of growers and producers. Duplication and/or use of this information is not permitted without authorization by Dr. Greg Lang at Michigan State University. Thank you for your cooperation.

Development of Powdery Mildew Resistance in Sweet Cherries

Powdery mildew is a common fungal pathogen of sweet cherries. Although yield losses have not been reported, powdery mildew is considered the most serious pre-harvest disease of cherries in the Pacific Northwest. Powdery mildew is commonly seen on tree foliage during the growing season (Figures 1), and fruit infection is most often seen in orchards with high incidence and severity of foliar infections (Figure 1). Fruit infections are the most severe problem, reducing fruit quality and leading to potential financial losses for the grower.

Sweet cherry shoot infected with powdery mildew.Sweet cherry fruit infected with powdery mildew.Close-up of powdery mildew infection on a sweet cherry leaf.

Figure 1. Left: Sweet cherry shoot infected with powdery mildew.  Middle: Sweet cherry fruit infected with powdery mildew.  Right: Close-up of powdery mildew infection on a sweet cherry leaf.

Powdery mildew is currently controlled by multiple fungicide applications. However, recent reports have documented reduced effectiveness of certain fungicides due to fungal resistance. These findings, coupled with increased grower and consumer awareness of chemical applications in the environment, led to the initiation of a project at Washington State University's Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (WSU-IAREC) to investigate the potential development of powdery mildew resistant sweet cherry varieties.

In the spring of 1998, a series of cross-pollinations (Figure 2) were performed between PMR-1 (Powdery Mildew Resistant - 1) and three commercial varieties (Bing, Van, and Rainier). PMR-1 is a cherry variety identified by Dr. Tom Toyama, the former stone fruit breeder from WSU-IAREC. PMR-1 is completely resistant to powdery mildew infection, but fruit quality does not meet commercial standards. However, PMR-1 appeared to be an ideal candidate for use as a powdery mildew resistance donor parent in a breeding program


 Hand pollinating cherriesSeeds grown in greenhouse
Figure 2.  Hand pollination was done in the field, and seeds were germinated and grown in the greenhouse after stratification.
While the seeds collected from the crosses were being cold stratified, a laboratory screening test was developed to speed the identification of resistant varieties. Small leaf disks were used to conserve space, and a growth chamber ensured environmental conditions were constant. A group of 14 varieties, all previously rated for powdery mildew susceptibility in the field, were used to test the leaf disk screening method. Results showed that use of the leaf disk screening method were not significantly different than field rating. Interestingly, there was a wide range in susceptibility to powdery mildew shown between just 14 varieties, and three other potential sources of complete resistance were identified (Figure 3).
Cherry cultivar screening for powdery mildew
Figure 3. Variation in susceptibility to powdery mildew in 14 varieties tested using a leaf disk screening method.
Cherry leaf discscherry seedlings
Figure 4. Leaf disks and entire seedlings show segregation for powdery mildew resistance and susceptibility in the growth chamber and the field.

The future of these seedlings will be evaluated in the coming years. With several hundred seedlings a good possibility exists that the powdery mildew resistance will be combined with excellent commercial qualities. In addition, future breeding priorities are to combine powdery mildew resistance with self fertility and other useful horticultural traits, as well as utilize other potential sources of powdery mildew resistance identified.

In 2000, crosses were made between Chelan and Moreau (two other potentially resistant cultivars identified by screening) and the susceptible cultivar Bing. Segregation for powdery mildew resistance within the progeny populations for these crosses also indicated a single gene was responsible for the resistance. Whether this gene is the same as the one found in PMR-1 remains to be determined.

For more information, please refer to these recent Publications

(Available links generally refer to the abstract from the article. Access to full text of the article may require membership and/or subscription. GoodFruit Grower articles are available online for subscribers by registering at www.goodfruit.com)
  • Olmstead, J.W., G.A. Lang, and G.G. Grove. 2001. Assessment of severity of powdery mildew infection of sweet cherry leaves by digital image analysis. HortScience 36:107-111.
  • Olmstead, J.W., G.A. Lang, and G.G. Grove. 2001. Inheritance of powdery mildew resistance in sweet cherry. HortScience 36:337-340.
  • Olmstead, J.W., G.A. Lang, and G.G. Grove. 2000. A leaf disk assay for screening sweet cherry genotypes for susceptibility to powdery mildew. HortScience 35:274-277.
  • Lang, G. and J. Olmstead. 1999. Cherry genetic resistance to powdery mildew. Good Fruit Grower 50(9):42-43.
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