Zebra chip may sound like a fun new black-and-white striped snack, but it’s not.
Zebra chip is a bacterial disease that attacks potatoes.
Like most bacteria, Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum doesn’t move around very well on its own. Instead, it lives in the gut of potato psyllids. Potato psyllids are tiny, sap-sucking pests. As they feed, the bacteria move from the insect to the plant, infecting the vascular tissue in both the plant and its tubers.
Symptoms of zebra chip
There are no aboveground symptoms of zebra chip, but potato psyllid feeding causes foliage to turn yellow or purple. It can also cause pink or red discoloration of leaves.
The real symptoms are visible only after you cut into a tuber. The zebra chip bacteria cause potatoes to store sugar, rather than starch. That might sound like a great idea for a new dessert food, but the presence of sugars cause vascular tissue to turn into ugly brown lines. When cooked, these brown lines turn black, hence the name. This condition also reduces crop size by 20 to 50%. Healthy appearing potatoes from plants affected by zebra chip are more likely to sprout while in storage. Seed pieces taken from infected plants either do not sprout at all, or they produce weak, infected plants.
Controlling zebra chip
Since zebra chip is carried in by potato psyllids, that’s where you must work to break this disease triangle. Potato psyllids can be trapped with yellow sticky sheets and spinosad can be used to reduce potato psyllid populations. These treatments won’t get rid of all the psyllids, but they will help. Be sure to inspect potato, bean, and pepper plants regularly for signs of psyllids.
In commercially grown potato fields, where potato psyllids have been identified, a type of systemic neonicotinoid neurotoxin, called imidacloprid, is applied. [While not yet noted in California, resistance to imidacloprid has been documented in Texas.]
Zebra chips might sound like a fun new brand of potato chips, but what they really mean is you need to be on the lookout for potato psyllids as you work and play in the garden.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!