Cedar Apple Rust Gall or PlayDough Hair?

“OK,” I began, as I asked my kids an important question. “Who put the orange PlayDough hair on the cedar tree?” “Not me!” all 8 kids said in unison. And I believed them. But there was a gelatinous substance on the red cedar tree branches- and it turned out not to be PlayDough- but the Cedar Apple Rust Gall. (But, heaven help me, it did look like hair made from PlayDough.)

But really, I shouldn’t joke about this freaky orange fungus. It is a terrible menace and scourge to apple tree farmers. Yes, I know I said this was a Cedar Rust Gall- but it doesn’t harm the Cedar Tree- it harms nearby Apple Trees. How much harm you ask? So much so that the state of Virginia passed the following ordinance commanding the cutting down of any cedar tree found with a Cedar Rust gall that is within 1 mile of an Apple orchard. The law said as follows:

“Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia’ that it shall hereafter be unlawful within this state for any person, firm or corporation to own, or keep alive and standing upon his or its premises, any red cedar tree, or trees (which are or may be) the source, harbor or host plant for the communicable plant disease commonly known as ‘orange’ or ‘cedar rust’, of the apple, and any such cedar trees when growing with a radius of one mile of any apple orchard in this state, are hereby declared a public nuisance and shall be destroyed as hereinafter provided, and it shall be the duty of the owner or owners of any such cedar trees to destroy the same as soon as they are directed to do so by
the state entomologist, as hereinafter provided.”

Not impressed yet by this funny fungus? Consider the following quote from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: The disease cycle of cedar-apple rust is one of the most complex of any plant diseases, and the fungus (Gymnosporangium) that causes cedar-apple rust spends almost two years of its life cycle on the cedar trees (Figure 5). The article and the life cycle diagram of this tree can be seen here: Oklahoma State Extension Office

So, what does this fungus do to the apple trees that would cause such consternation among apple farmers? Well, according to a Mississippi State Extension report- the fungus causes the following damage: While cedar-apple rust doesn’t kill trees, the repeated effects of leaf destruction and defoliation eventually leads to weakened trees and poor apple yields. Weak trees are more susceptible to other problems, such as winter injury, which frequently lead to tree death. Hmm , I’m going to guess that apple tree farmers would rather their apple trees not die. The following is 1919 account of a farmer dealing with the Cedar Apple Rust:

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Transactions of Th Annual Session of the Peninsula Horticultural Society By Peninsula Horticultural Society