University of Arkansas discovery of Rose rosette virus good news for growers

May 3, 2011
Contact Information:

Ioannis E. Tzanetakis, Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology

Howell Medders, Division of Agriculture Communications
479-575-5647 /

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rose rosette

Rose rosette disease symptoms can include lateral shoot elongation, malformation of flowers and leaves, and witch’s broom, as seen in this photo. The Rose rosette virus was recently discovered by University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture plant pathologists.
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture scientists have identified a plant virus that causes rose rosette disease, which can deform rose plants and kill them in a few years after infection. The causal agent of this bane to rose growers has been unknown since the disease was first detected 70 years ago, said Yannis Tzanetakis, assistant professor of plant pathology.

Tzanetakis and his doctoral student, Alma Laney, discovered the new virus, named Rose rosette virus, developed sensitive detection tests for it and found it in all plants they tested that had rose rosette symptoms.

The discovery is a major breakthrough for the ornamental industry. Commercial plant propagators can now screen plant material for the virus and destroy infected material, Tzanetakis said.

An article on the findings, “A discovery 70 years in the making: Characterization of the Rose rosette virus,” by Alma G. Laney, Karen E. Keller, Robert R. Martin and Ioannis E. Tzanetakis, has been accepted for publication by the Journal of General Virology, one of the premier international virology journals.

In the ornamental industry, many plants are propagated in a few states and then shipped across the country to wholesale and retail outlets.

“The causal agent of rose rosette is transmitted by eriophyid mites. If the vector is present then the disease can spread like wildfire, especially if there are wild hosts for the virus, namely multiflora rose, one of the better hosts,” Tzanetakis said. Multiflora rose is considered an invasive plant in much of the eastern, southern and mid-western United States.

Laney and Tzanetakis identified the virus by screening more than 80 plants with disease symptoms. They found the new virus in all diseased plants but no healthy-looking plants.

“The perfect association between virus and symptoms indicates that the Rose rosette virus is the causal agent of the disease,” Tzanetakis said.

Plants infected by Rose rosette virus develop severe symptoms that include witches’ broom, lateral shoot elongation and malformation of flowers and leaves, Tzanetakis said.