Fungus threatens Greece’s plane trees

Thousands of plane trees across Greece have become afflicted with an invasive fungus that is threatening hundreds of native forests, according to recent reports.

The pathogen Ceratocystis platani was first spotted in Greece in 2003 in the southern Peloponnese region of Messinia, killing dozens of thousands of trees across the Peloponnese, while the fungus has also recently been traced in plane trees in the region of Epirus.

According to Panayiotis Tsopelas, a plant pathologist at the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems, this canker stain disease is one of the deadliest threatening plane forests across the globe.

?The most common propagator of the fungus, over small or large distances, is gardening equipment, such as shovels, pruning shears and other digging equipment,? Tsopelas explained. ?The spores of the fungus can survive for days at a time on equipment, especially in sawdust from infected trees.?

In a proposal to the European Commission on Monday, PASOK Euro MP Kriton Arsenis rang the alarm bells, and asked for immediate measures to be taken to curb the spread of the fungus in forests in Greece and throughout the European Union.

?If drastic measures are not adopted immediately to contain the disease,? stressed Tsopelas, ?this pathogen will spread rapidly and cause a major ecological disaster.?

Ceratocystis platani can infect any plane tree, irrespective of its size and age. There is no known cure and infected trees will die within two years of becoming infected.

In an earlier paper to the EC, Arsenis had noted that in certain cities of France and Italy the canker stain disease has attained epidemic proportions, destroying 80-90 percent of plane trees (e.g. acerifolia). The presence of the pathogenic fungus has also been detected in Switzerland, Belgium, Armenia and, finally, in Greece, while there have also been unconfirmed reports of its appearance in Spain, Turkey and Algeria.