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Peer Reviewed

2004 Plant Management Network.
Accepted for publication 17 February 2004. Published 19 March 2004.

Fusarium Species Associated with Tall Fescue Seed Production in Oregon

Cynthia M. Ocamb, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Corvallis 97331-2902; and Stephen C. Alderman, USDA-ARS, National Forage Seed Production Research Center, Corvallis 97331

Corresponding author: C. M. Ocamb.

Ocamb, C. M., and Alderman, S. C. 2004. Fusarium species associated with tall fescue seed production in Oregon. Online. Plant Health Progress doi:10.1094/PHP-2004-0319-01-RS.


Seed samples were collected from 15 commercial tall fescue seed production fields and examined for Fusarium spp. The percentage of seeds from which Fusarium spp. were recovered ranged from 0 to 32%, while disinfesting seeds with 3% hydrogen peroxide reduced the recovery of Fusarium to 7% or less. The predominant Fusarium spp. isolated from the tall fescue seeds included F. avenaceum, F. culmorum, F. pseudograminearum, and F. sambucinum. Greenhouse inoculations of tall fescue panicles with F. avenaceum, F. culmorum, and F. pseudograminearum resulted in higher seedborne rates of each respective Fusarium sp. than that recovered from noninoculated plants. Seeds recovered from panicles treated with F. avenaceum or F. pseudograminearum had significantly lower germination rates relative to panicles sprayed with water or a suspension of F. culmorum. Our work confirms that Fusarium spp. decrease seed germination and expands the pathogen list to include F. avenaceum and F. pseudograminearum.


Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) seed production is an important industry in Oregon. In 2002, 65,862 ha of tall fescue in Oregon yielded 114 million kg of seed, valued at $86 million (11). Nearly all the hectares are planted as certified seed, requiring a high level of purity and germination. In 1998, the Oregon State University (OSU) Seed Laboratory noted reduced germination, below the 90% minimum germination requirement for seed certification, in tall fescue seed samples submitted for germination determination as required for seed certification. Fusarium sporodochia were observed on some seeds, and an association of Fusarium with reduced germination in tall fescue was suspected (S. C. Alderman, unpublished data). Fusarium heterosporum (4,9) and F. culmorum (5) have been previously reported on tall fescue seeds and roots. The impact of Fusarium spp. on viability of tall fescue seeds has not been established, nor has it been shown whether infection by a Fusarium sp. during flowering will lead to increased seedborne frequency of that species.

Germination of grass seed is typically evaluated under 15/25C night/day temperatures but in some cases an elevated temperature regime of 20/30C night/day is used to shorten the duration of the germination test (2). It is unknown if either temperature regime favors Fusarium seed or seedling infection, but the 20/30C regime was discontinued at the OSU Seed Laboratory due to observations of greater fungal infections of seeds during germination under the warmer temperature regime.

The objectives of this research were to: (i) recover and identify species of Fusarium from commercial tall fescue seed produced in Oregon; (ii) determine if Fusarium infections can be controlled by surface disinfestation; (iii) determine if germination is decreased under an elevated incubation temperature; and (iv) evaluate the potential of Fusarium spp. as seed pathogens when introduced during flowering of tall fescue.

Evaluation of Tall Fescue Seeds Produced in Commercial Fields

During 1998, 15 25-g samples of tall fescue seed samples with reduced germination rates were obtained from the OSU Seed Laboratory. Each seed sample represented a separate field. From each sample, 50 nontreated seeds were picked at random and embedded into solidified Nash medium (7) supplemented with aureomycin (6). Plates were incubated at 24C with only ambient light for 21 days. An additional set of 50 seeds from each sample was disinfested with 3% hydrogen peroxide for 60 min, triple-rinsed with sterile, distilled water, and cultured as above. Putative Fusarium colonies were transferred from the Nash medium to potato dextrose agar (PDA) and carnation leaf agar (CLA) (8). Cultures were incubated under fluorescent lamps supplemented with black light in a 12-h photoperiod at 24C (8). Each putative Fusarium colony was identified to species according to the system of Nelson et al. (8), with the exception of F. pseudograminearum which was formerly known as F. graminearum Group I and lacks homothallic perithecial production (1). The experiment was repeated. Means were calculated and a paired t-test was used to compare disinfested to nontreated seed (SAS 8.02, Cary, NC). A subset of isolates was purified by the single-spore method and stored on silica gel at 5C (10).

Since the recovery of Fusarium spp. was similar between experimental replicates, data from experimental replicates were combined. The percentage of seed from which Fusarium spp. were recovered ranged from 0 to 32% (Table 1). Disinfestation with hydrogen peroxide reduced recovery of Fusarium from 0 to 32% to 0 to 7%. The predominant Fusarium sp. recovered from nontreated seeds was F. avenaceum (Table 2). Fusarium sambucinum, F. pseudograminearum, and F. culmorum also were commonly recovered from nontreated seeds; F. oxysporum, F. equiseti, F. semitectum, F. lateritium, and F. proliferatum were rarely isolated. Fusarium avenaceum and F. sambucinum were the predominant species recovered from disinfested seeds (Table 2). Since seed disinfestation significantly reduced the frequency of seedborne Fusarium spp. recovered, the majority of Fusarium spp. was likely present on seeds as surface contaminates or as superficial infections.

Table 1. Germination percentage of tall fescue seeds and percentage that yielded Fusarium spp.

Cultivar Germinationb Percent
seeds that
Fusarium spp.
seeds that
163887 RG-93
81 32            4 ***
165016 Leprechaun 86 32            5 ***
163222 El Dorado 89 30            3 ***
163827 RG-93
82 29            2 ***
164654 Bonzai 82 29            3 ***
162769 Titan 91 28            3 ***
163891 RG-93
78 22            7 ***
162888 Titan 89 11            1 ***
162687 Orygun 87 8            0 **
163204 LRF-983 84 6            1 *
163226 Rebel III 86 5            1
162937 Avalon 82 3            0
163227 Rebel III 88 1            1
162276 Coyote 79 0            0
162855 Houndog 89 0            0

 a OSU Seed Certification Laboratory record number.

 b Determined by the OSU Seed Certification Laboratory.

 c Based on two replicates of 50 seeds per sample in each experiment.

 d Seeds were disinfested in 3% hydrogen peroxide for 60 minutes. Means of H2O2-treated seeds that are significantly different from nontreated seeds are labeled, according to paired t-test, with: *** for P = 0.005; ** for P = 0.01; and * for P = 0.05.

Table 2. Frequency of Fusarium spp. recovered from nontreated and disinfested tall fescue seeds.a,b

163887 nontreated 17 2 11 1 0 1 0 0 0 32
disinfested 2 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 4
165016 nontreated 15 2 10 1 3 0 1 0 0 32
disinfested 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 5
163222 nontreated 12 4 10 0 3 1 0 0 0 30
disinfested 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
163827 nontreated 15 0 13 0 0 0 1 0 0 29
disinfested 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
164654 nontreated 13 4 7 0 2 0 1 0 2 29
disinfested 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 3
162769 nontreated 6 7 10 0 4 0 1 0 0 28
disinfested 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
163891 nontreated 8 4 9 0 1 0 0 0 0 22
disinfested 2 1 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 7
162888 nontreated 4 3 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 11
disinfested 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
162687 nontreated 2 1 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 8
disinfested 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
163204 nontreated 2 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 6
disinfested 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
163226 nontreated 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 5
disinfested 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
162937 nontreated 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
disinfested 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
163227 nontreated 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
disinfested 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
162276 nontreated 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
disinfested 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
162855 nontreated 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
disinfested 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

a Based on two replicates of 50 seeds per sample in each experiment.

b Frequency of recovery of Fusarium spp. as % of seeds in each sample.

c OSU Seed Certification Laboratory record number.

To evaluate the effect of elevated temperature during germination, nontreated seeds from each sample were placed on moist germination paper in germination plates (15-cm diameter, 2.5-cm height), cold-treated at 5C for 5 days, and then incubated at either 15/25C or 20/30C night /day under a 16-h photoperiod. Germination counts were made on days 7 and 14. A seed was considered germinated when the radicle was equal to or greater than twice the length of the caryopsis. One hundred seeds were evaluated from each sample in each of two experimental replicates. Mean percentage germination was calculated and a paired t-test was used to compare germination between the temperature regimes on day 14 for each seed sample.

Since seed germination was not significantly different between experimental replicates, data from experimental replicates were combined. Seed germination on day 7 was generally lower under the 20/30C than the 15/25C temperature regime, but by day 14, germination was similar in both temperature regimes (Fig. 1). Since the level of recovery of Fusarium spp. from certified seed samples was not correlated with germination percentage, other microorganisms or environmental or host factors not categorized in this study may have contributed to the reduced germination.


Fig. 1. Tall fescue seed germination under two temperature regimes; 15/25C and 20/30C. Based on 2 replicates of 100 seeds per sample at each temperature regime in each experiment.


Greenhouse Plant Inoculations

Tall fescue seeds (cultivar Fawn) were sown in 10-cm diameter pots containing a pasteurized greenhouse soil mix (1 part sandy loam:1 part peat:1 part pumice, pH 6.6). Pots were placed in a greenhouse with 21/18C day/night with a 14-h photoperiod (provided by high-pressure sodium lamps). After seedling emergence, plants were thinned to one per pot. At the 8-leaf stage, plants were vernalized in a growth chamber for 5 weeks at 5C with an 8-h daylength, and then plants were returned to the greenhouse. Fertility was maintained with Osmocote slow release fertilizer.

Four isolates of F. pseudograminearum, three of F. avenaceum, and one of F. culmorum, all obtained from tall fescue seed and stored on silica gel crystals, were revived on CLA under the light and temperature regimes previously described. Inoculum was increased by transferring 5-mm agar plugs from 10- to 14-day-old CLA cultures to 50 ml of sterile Difco potato broth in 150-ml flasks. Flasks were placed on a rotary shaker at 100 rpm and incubated for 4 days with no additional lighting. Cultures were minced with a hand-held homogenizer, filtered through four layers of cheesecloth, and diluted with sterile distilled water to a concentration of 106 conidia per ml using a hemocytometer. The four isolates of F. pseudograminearum and the three isolates of F. avenaceum were bulked together by species. The control was sterile distilled water. At the beginning of flowering, plants were inoculated using a hand-held atomizer and the conidial suspension was sprayed onto each head until near run-off. On each plant, a different panicle was inoculated with each Fusarium sp. and one additional panicle was sprayed with distilled water (control). The greenhouse inoculations were conducted three times. A completely randomized design was used, with 16, 55, and 36 plants for the first, second, and third replicate, respectively, for a total of 107 plants. Plant number was not equal in each replicate due to lack of panicles on some plants. Panicles were hand-threshed when seed was mature. Five seeds from each panicle were arbitrarily placed into amended Nash medium as previously described. After 14 days, putative Fusarium colonies were subcultured onto CLA and PDA for species identification.

Twenty-five seeds from each panicle were placed in germination plates, cold-treated at 5C for 5 days, and then incubated under a 15/25C day/night regime with a 16-h photoperiod. Germination counts were made on day 14. A seed was considered germinated when the radicle was equal to or greater than twice the length of the caryopsis. Fusarium spp. were tested for significant effects (P = 0.05) on percentage seed carrying Fusarium spp. using a general linear model (SAS 8.02, Cary, NC) for an analysis of variance of percentage seeds yielding Fusarium spp., germination rates, and the percentage of seedlings that died during the germination evaluation; means were compared with Tukey's W statistic.

Panicles inoculated with each Fusarium sp. resulted in a corresponding increase (P = 0.05) in numbers of seeds yielding Fusarium (Table 3). Fusarium avenaceum and F. pseudograminearum infestations (31.2 and 27.5% seeds, respectively) were significantly greater (P = 0.05) than that of F. culmorum infestation (17.4% seeds). The same Fusarium sp. used in panicle inoculation was recovered from seed from the corresponding inoculated panicles (data not shown). When panicles were sprayed with distilled water, F. oxysporum was detected in less than 5% of the seeds tested.

Table 3. Germination and mortality rates of tall fescue seeds from inoculated panicles

% seedsa

% seedsb
at day 5
% seeds
at day 14
F. avenaceum 31.2 a 46.7 a 84.3 b 24.9 a
F. culmorum 17.4 b 51.8 a 90.5 a 14.5 b
F. pseudograminearum 27.5 a 41.8 a 76.5 c 30.7 a
Water-control   4.9 c 50.7 a 91.2 a   5.7 c

a 535 seeds per treatment (five seeds per tiller from each plant in three replicates for a total of 107 plants) were sampled for Fusarium spp. Means labeled with the same letters are not significantly different (P = 0.05) according to Tukeys W statistic.

b 2675 seeds per treatment (25 seeds per tiller, 107 plants) were used in the germination evaluation.

c The percentage of germlings which died during the 14 days of study.

Germination rates of seeds from inoculated panicles were similar on the fifth day of germination (Table 3). However, on day 14, significantly fewer (P = 0.05) seeds from panicles sprayed with F. pseudograminearum had germinated compared to the other panicle treatments. Percentage germination of seeds harvested from the F. avenaceum inoculation was also significantly reduced relative to the water-control. No reduction in germination resulted from the F. culmorum treatment. Germling death was observed during germination, and the percentage mortality was significantly greater in all Fusarium treatments than the water control (Table 3).


It has been previously reported that tall fescue seed can be colonized by F. heterosporum (4,9) and F. culmorum (5), resulting in seed decay or damping-off problems; F. heterosporum was not detected in this study. Our work confirms that Fusarium spp. introduced during tall fescue flowering can decrease germination of the subsequent seed crop below the 90% minimum germination required for seed certification, and our work expands the pathogen list to include F. avenaceum and F. pseudograminearum. Additional studies are necessary to determine whether the presence of F. avenaceum or other Fusarium spp. will cause seedling diseases in the field and whether the stage of seed development at time of inoculation affects subsequent Fusarium presence on seed.

Fusarium spp. can colonize plant residues and live as saprophytes. During the 1940s through the 1980s, most grass-seed fields were burned post-harvest to control diseases and remove residues. Legislation passed during the 1990s placed strict limits on the annual acreage that can be burned. Increased levels of grass residues in many of the tall fescue fields may be supporting larger populations of pathogenic Fusarium spp., and perhaps a greater prevalence of Fusarium spp. on seed. Producers may experience periodic germination problems, detected during seed certification, due to Fusarium spp. Seed treatments have been shown to suppress seedborne Fusarium spp. (5) and protect germlings against pathogenic soilborne Fusarium spp. (3), however these treatments are not applied prior to seed certification.


We gratefully acknowledge the technical assistance provided by Beth Dankert, Tim Knight, Ian Niktab, Rebecca Shala, Chie Tanaka, and Erin McCabe, the cooperation of the OSU Seed Laboratory and Seed Certification, and the facilities provided by the USDA-ARS and Oregon State University. We thank Wade Elmer and Carol Windels for their helpful review of this manuscript. We also wish to thank Jean Juba, Pennsylvania State University, for confirming the identity of representative Fusarium isolates. Support was provided by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Literature Cited

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2. Copeland, L. O. 1981. Rules for testing seed. J. Seed Technol. 6:126.

3. Falloon, R. E. 1987. Fungicide seed treatments increase growth of perennial ryegrass. Plant Soil 101:197-203.

4. Foudin, A., and Calvert, O. 1982. New head-scab of tall fescue in United States caused by Fusarium heterosporum. Plant Dis. 66:866.

5. Holmes, S. J. I. 1983. The susceptibility of agricultural grasses to pre-emergence damage caused by Fusarium culmorum and its control by fungicidal seed treatment. Grass. Forage Sci. 38:209-214.

6. Kommedahl, T., Windels, C. E., and Stucker, R. E. 1979. Occurrence of Fusarium species in roots and stalks of symptomless corn plants during the growing season. Phytopathology 69:961-966.

7. Nash, S. M., and Snyder, W. C. 1962. Quantitative estimations by plate counts of propagules of the bean root rot Fusarium in field soils. Phytopathology 52:567-572.

8. Nelson, P. E., Toussoun, T. A., and Marasas, W. F. O. 1983. Fusarium species: An Illustrated Guide for Identification: Penn. State Univ. Press, University Park.

9. Schoen, J. F., and Hurst, S. J. 1986. Fungal bodies in tall fescue seeds. AOSA Newsletter 64:80.

10. Windels, C. E., Burnes, P. M., and Kommedahl, T. 1988. Five-year preservation of Fusarium species on silica gel and soil. Phytopathology 78:107-109.

11. Young, W. 2003. Seed Production. Oregon State Univ. Ext. Serv. Crop and Soil News/Notes 17:1-7.