Corn grey leaf spot

Corn grey leaf spot
Cercospora zeae-maydis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Fungi
Division: Ascomycota
Family: Mycosphaerellaceae
Genus: Cercospora
Species: C. zeae-maydis
Binomial name
Cercospora zeae-maydis
Tehon & E.Y. Daniels, 1925

Corn grey leaf spot is a fungal disease that affects corn. The causal fungal pathogen is Cercospora zeae-maydis[1]. Symptoms seen on corn include leaf lesions, discoloration (chlorosis), and entire leaf blight. The fungus survives in debris of topsoil and infects healthy crop via asexual spores called conidia. Environmental conditions that best suit infection and growth include moist, humid, and warm climates. Poor airflow, low sunlight, overcrowding, improper soil nutrient and irrigation management and poor soil drainage can all contribute to the propagation of the disease.[2] Management techniques include crop resistance, crop rotation, residue management, use of fungicides, and weed control. The purpose of disease management is to prevent the amount of secondary disease cycles and to protect leaf area from damage until corn grain forms. Corn grey leaf spot is an important disease of corn production in the United States, economically significant throughout the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. However, it also is prevalent in Africa, Central America, China, Europe, India, Mexico, the Philippines, northern South America, and Southeast Asia.[3] The teleomorph (sexual phase) of Cercospora Zeae-Maydis is assumed to be Mycosphaerella sp.[4]


Host and Symptoms

Corn is the only species that can be affected by the fungus, Cercospora zeae-maydis. There are two populations of Cercospora zeae-maydis, distinguished by molecular analysis, growth rate, geographic distribution, and cercosporin toxin production. Cercospora Zeae-Maydis differs from its cousin group Cercospera zeina sp. nov as it has faster growth rate artificial media, has the ability to produce the toxin cercosporin, has longer conidiophores, and has broadly fusiform conidia.[5] One population affects corn in the Eastern Corn Belt and Mid-Atlantic States; the second population is found in most corn-producing areas of western Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Ohio, and west Tennessee (Midwest). Both populations have the same symptoms and virulence.[6]

Major outbreaks of gray leaf spot occur whenever favorable weather conditions are present (see Environment section). The initial symptoms of gray leaf spot emerge as small, dark, moist spots that are encircled by a thin, yellow radiance (lesions forming). The tissue within the “spot" begins to die as spot size increases into longer, narrower leaf lesions. Although initially brownish and yellow, the characteristic gray color that ensues is due to the production of gray fungal spores, conidia, on the lesion surface. Symptoms, similar in shape, size and discoloration, are also prevalent on the corn husks and leaf sheaths. However, leaf sheath lesions are not surrounded by a yellow radiance, rather a brown or dark purple one.[7] This dark brown or purple discoloration on leaf sheaths is also characteristic to northern corn leaf blight (Exserohilum turcicum), southern corn leaf blight (Bipolaris maydis), or northern corn leaf spot (Bipolaris zeicola). Corn grey leaf spot mature lesions are easily diagnosed and distinguishable from these other diseases. Mature corn grey leaf spot lesions have brown rectangular and vein limited shape. Secondary and tertiary leaf veins limit the width of the lesion and sometimes individual lesions can combine to blight entire leaves.

Disease Cycle

Cercospora zeae-maydis survives only as long as infected corn debris is present; however, it is a poor soil competitor. The debris on the soil surface is a cause for primary inoculation that infects the incoming corn crop for the next season. By late spring, conidia (asexual spores) are produced by Cercospora zeae-maydis in the debris through wind dispersal or rain the conidia are disseminated and eventually infect new corn crop.[8] In order for the pathogen to actually infect the host, high relative humidity and moisture (dew) on the leaves are necessary for inoculation. Primary inoculation occurs on lower regions of younger leaves, where conidia germinate across leaf surfaces and penetrate through stomata. Cercospora zeae-maydis is atypical in that its conidia can grow and survive for days before penetration, unlike most spores that need to penetrate within hours to ensure survival. Once infection occurs, the disease begins to develop and conidia are produced in these lower leaf regions. Assuming favorable weather conditions, these conidia serve as secondary inoculum for upper leaf regions, as well as husks and sheaths (where it can also overwinter and produce conidia the following season). Additionally, wind and heavy rains tend to disperse the conidia on many secondary cycles to other parts of the field causing many secondary cycles of infection. If conditions are unfavorable for inoculation, the pathogen undergoes a state of dormancy during the winter season and reactivates when conditions favorable to inoculation return (moist, humid) the following season. The fungus overwinters as stromata in leaf debris, which give rise to conidia causing primary inoculums the following spring and summer.[9]


Corn gray leaf spot flourishes under extended periods of high relative humidity (> 2 days) and free moisture on leaves due to fog, dew, or light rain. Additionally, heavy rains tend to assist in dispersal of the pathogen. Temperatures between 75° and 95°F are also required. If temperature drops below 75°F during wet periods or lack 12 hours of wetness, the extent of disease will be greatly diminished[10]. In the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, these conditions are favorable for spore development during the spring and summer months.


In order to best prevent and manage corn grey leaf spot, the overall approach is to reduce the rate of disease growth and expansion. This is done by limiting the amount of secondary disease cycles and protecting leaf area from damage until after corn grain formation. High risks for corn grey leaf spot are divided into eight factors, which require specific management strategies.

   High risk factors for gray leaf spot in corn[11]:
   1. Susceptible hybrid
   2. Continuous corn
   3. Late planting date
   4. Minimum tillage systems
   5. Field history of severe disease
   6. Early disease activity (before tasseling)
   7. Irrigation
   8. Favorable weather forecast for disease 

There are currently five different management strategies, some of which are more effective than others.

1. Resistant varieties

The most proficient and economical method to reduce yield losses from corn grey leaf spot is by introducing resistant plant varieties. In places where leaf spot occur, these crops can ultimately grow and still be resistant to the disease. Although the disease is not completely eliminated and resistant varieties show disease symptoms, at the end of the growing season, the disease is not as effective in reducing crop yield. Phb 32D96 B has been proven to be a corn variety that is resistant to gray leaf spot.[12] Susceptible varieties should not be planted in previously infected areas (see high risk table).[13]

2. Crop rotation

The amount of initial inoculum will be reduced when a crop other than corn is planted for ≥2 years in that given area; meanwhile proper tillage methods are carried out. Clean plowing and 1-year crop rotation in the absence of corn allows for greater reductions of the disease as well. Note that conventional tilling can reduce disease but can lead to greater soil erosion[14].

3. Residue management

Burying the debris under the last year’s crop will help in reducing the presence of Cercospera zeae-maydis, as the fungal-infected debris can only survive above the soil surface. Again this technique will aid in reducing the primary inoculum, however it will not completely eradicate the disease. [15].

4. Fungicides

Fungicides, if sprayed early in season before initial damage, can be effective in reducing disease. Fungicides propiconazole, azoxystrobin, pyraclostrobin are successful in treating corn grey leaf spot. When spraying fungicides Azoxystrobin and Pyraclostrobin at 6 oz/a at tassel stage using a tractor-mounted CO2 powered sprayer using 20 gallons of water/acre, average yield was seen to increase.[16] However, the use of fungicides can be both economically and environmentally costly and should only be applied on susceptible varieties and large-scale corn production.

5. Weed control

By removing weeds, above ground airflow to the crop is increased, relative humidity is decreased, and it limits infection at most susceptible times[17].


Before 1970, corn grey leaf spot was not prevalent in the United States, however the disease spread during the mid part of the decade throughout low mountain regions of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Today, the disease has expanded to Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and west Tennessee. Corn grey leaf spot can be an extremely devastating disease as potential yield losses range from 5 to 40 bushels/acre. At higher disease levels, even greater losses can result. When a corn plant’s ability to store and produce carbohydrates (glucose) in the grain is diminished, yield losses take place. This occurs as Cercospera zeae maydis infects foliar tissue and as a result reduces the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and produce byproducts of the process (ex. glucose).[18]


  1. ^ Ward, J. M. J., E. L. Stromberg, D. C. Nowell, and F.W. Nutter, Jr. 1999. Gray leaf spot: A disease of global importance in maize production. Plant Disease 83: 884- 895
  2. ^
  3. ^ Crous PW, Braun U (2003). Mycosphaerella and its anamorphs. 1. Names published in Cercospora and Passalora. CBS Biodiversity Series 1: 1–571.
  4. ^ Nyvall, Robert F. “Field Crop Disease”. Wiley-Blackwell, 1999, p. 282.
  5. ^ Wang J, Levy M, Dunkle LD (1998). Sibling species of Cercospora associated with gray leaf spot of maize. Phytopathology 88: 1269–1275.
  6. ^ Pedro W. Crous, Johannes Z. Groenewald, Marizeth Groenewald, Pat Caldwell, Uwe Braun, Thomas C. Harrington, "Species of Cercospora associated with grey leaf spot of maize." Stud Mycol. 2006; 55: 189–197.
  7. ^ Beckman, P. M., and Payne, G. A. 1982. External growth, penetration, and development of Cercospora Zeae-Maydis in Corn Leaves. Phytopathology 72:810-815 [1]
  8. ^ Shaner, G. E., Sellers, P. R., Scott, D. H. , "Grey Leaf Spot." Department of Botany and Plant Pathology- Purdue University [2]
  9. ^
  10. ^ Shaner, G. E., Sellers, P. R., Scott, D. H. , "Grey Leaf Spot." Department of Botany and Plant Pathology- Purdue University [3]
  11. ^ Rees, J.M, Jackson, T.A., Gray Leaf Spot of Corn. University of Nebraska-Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (2008). [4]
  12. ^
  13. ^ Stromberg, E.L. Gray Leaf Spot Disease of Corn Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech (2009). [5]
  14. ^ Stromberg, E.L. Gray Leaf Spot Disease of Corn Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech (2009).[6]
  15. ^ Douglas J. Jardine, Gray Leaf Spot of Corn, Kansas State University, July 1998. [7]
  16. ^ Jeschke, M. 2008. Foliar Fungicide Effects on Corn Yield. Crop Insights. Vol. 18, no. 17. Pioneer Hi-Bred Int'l, Inc. Johnston, IA.
  17. ^ Lipps, P.E, Mills, D.R,Gray Leaf Spot on Corn. The Ohio State University. [8]
  18. ^ Stromberg, E.L. Gray Leaf Spot Disease of Corn Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech (2009). [9]

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