Kerria twig and leaf blight

Kerria, once considered a disease free, spring flowering shrub, is now affected by a fungal infection that causes lesions and defoliation.

Kerria  twig and leaf blight ( Blumeriella kerriae ) on Kerria japonica

Kerria twig and leaf blight (Blumeriella kerriae) on Kerria japonica

Quick facts

Common name Kerria twig and leaf blight
Scientific name Blumeriella kerriae
Synonyms Higginsia kerriae, Coccomyces kerriae
Plants affected Kerria japonica
Main symptoms Leaf spot, stem lesions, defoliation
Caused by Fungus
Timing Throughout the year

What is Kerria twig and leaf blight?

Since 2014 RHS Gardening Advice has received a number of reports and samples from across the UK of Kerria japonica exhibiting severe defoliation, spots on the leaves and stem lesions. Upon closer examination it was determined that the symptoms were caused by the fungus Blumeriella kerriae. This fungus has been recorded on Kerria japonica in America but has not previously been recorded on any plant in the UK. It is not known how this fungus arrived in the UK. 

Unfortunately the fungus appears to be very difficult to control and produces large quantities of spores on the lesions and leaf spots. The good news is that this fungus Blumeriella kerriae appears to be specific to Kerria, so other plants in the garden should not be at risk.

Symptoms

  • On the leaves the infection starts as small red-brown spots (1-5 mm diameter) with dark purple borders. Spots are visible on both leaf surfaces and sometimes number in the hundreds on a single leaf
  • In wet conditions the spores of the fungus may be visible as white clusters in the centre of the spots
  • As the infection progresses the spots coalesce and the leaves turn yellow through to brown and fall from the stems
  • Stem lesions appear as purple-brown, slightly-sunken elliptical cankers which remain visible on the stems throughout the year. Cankers which girdle the stem result in extensive stem die-back

Control

Non-chemical control

No effective control measures for Kerria twig and leaf blight have yet been identified. The disease is best managed by removing all infected plant material and either burning it or disposing of it at your local council composting facility. Home compost heaps rarely reach the temperatures achieved by large-scale facilities required to kill fungal spores. Clearing fallen leaves should reduce fungal inoculum in the following year.

Chemical control

There are no fungicides available to amateur gardeners with specific recommendations for use against Blumeriella kerriae. However, the fungicide tebuconazole with trifloxystrobin (Bayer Fungus Fighter Plus) carries a label recommendation for use against 'leaf spots' on ornamental plants. Tebuconazole (Bayer Fungus Fighter Concentrate) and triticonazole (Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra and Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra Gun) are labelled for the control of a number of other diseases on ornamental plants and could therefore be used legally on Kerria (at the owner’s risk) to try and control leaf spot.

There is no specific information available as to the efficacy of these products against Kerria twig and leaf blight. It is likely that repeated sprays will be required where the disease is present, particularly during warm wet weather. Success is more likely if the plant is cut back hard to remove affected material, and then sprays applied to protect the new growth. It would be prudent to apply a small amount of the chosen fungicide first to ensure that the product will not cause plant damage.

Inclusion of a fungicide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

Download

Fungicides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining fungicides available to gardeners)

Biology

The cause of twig and leaf blight on Kerria japonica is the fungus Blumeriella kerria. This fungus is closely related to Blumeriella jappii, a fungus which can cause leaf spot on cherry trees.

The development of Kerria twig and leaf blight is likely to be favoured by wet weather conditions. In damp conditions Blumeriella kerriae produces large numbers of asexual spores from each spot/lesion. Spores are likely to be transferred between plants via rain splash, wind, and transfer on contaminated tools.

The fungus overwinters on fallen leaves and lesions on the stems then releases spores to reinfect new growth in spring. Spore production has been observed throughout the year on Kerria plants in the UK.  The sexual stage of the fungus has not yet been observed to occur in the UK.


Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.