Can you see a crack in the trunk or branches of your tree? It may be canker rot.
Canker rot is a collection of fungal diseases that eat away at the interior of tree trunks and branches, weakening the tree and setting the stage for other pests and diseases. Canker rots can also girdle your tree and kill it. While most commonly seen in ornamental trees, canker rot can occur in apple and other fruit and nut trees. Trees with canker rot can be extremely dangerous and should be dealt with right away.
Canker rot identification
Cankers are open wounds, or lesions. Cankers can be a few inches long and wide, or several feet long, depending on the fungal species. The bark next to these cankers dies, becoming discolored, often lighter or orangish, and it is tightly bonded to the canker. After a year or so, the dead inner bark turns black and stringy. This looks a lot like sooty bark canker, but canker rot can also have lenticular (lens-shaped) lighter areas in the bark. Unlike other canker diseases, canker rot affects both bark and inner tissue.
Canker rots can also cause swelling, sunken areas, gnarled bark, and conks. Conks are shelf-shaped fungal fruiting bodies. After spores are released, the conk will dry out and darken. It may remain on the tree or fall off.
If you were to see inside your tree, you would see that the heartwood and sapwood have become discolored. Instead of the warm, rich yellowish-browns of healthy wood, you would see gray, orange, or even pink-tinged wood, often extending 3 or more feet beyond the canker.
Canker rot lifecycle
The fungi responsible for canker rot usually enter trees through pruning cuts and wounds. Fungi attach to the wood and then move to the cambium to access the water and nutrients flowing through the vascular bundle. This is what causes the canker. The fungi also move to the bark, where they eject spores, which are then carried on wind to nearby trees.
How to control canker rot
As always, healthy trees are better able to protect themselves. This means selecting species suitable to your microclimate, planting them at the proper depth, irrigating and fertilizing your trees properly, and monitoring for signs of problems. Other actions you can take to reduce the chance to canker rot occurring in your trees include:
Canker rot can make your tree dangerous. If it is a large tree and the canker is directly facing or opposite the prevailing wind, your tree can be blown over. Large trees weigh several tons and can be extremely dangerous. If you suspect canker rot, call a licensed arborist right away.
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