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Early Onset Of Pumpkin Blight Could Squash Our Thanksgiving Pie Supply

Phytophthora blight can create lesions on the underside of pumpkins and other vegetables that ruins the crop.
Purdue University Extension
Phytophthora blight can create lesions on the underside of pumpkins and other vegetables that ruin the crop.

A fungus that attacks vegetables has shown up early this year in Illinois, and that could threaten the availability of pumpkin pie filling at Thanksgiving.

Phytophthora blight is a vine infection that can damage vegetables including peppers, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. It shows up most years, but this summer, heavy rains in late June and early July have made it appear early.

“After the middle of August, or close to the end of the season in September or so it’s not so bad,” said Mohammad Babadoost, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Illinois. “But this year, in the first week of July, is too much.”

Babadoost detected phytophthora in his test plot of pumpkins near Morton, Illinois. Illinois is the nation’s biggest pumpkin producer, supplying more than 90% of the canned pumpkin sold in the U.S.

Phytophthora has been responsible for wiping out entire pumpkin harvests in previous years.

“If we do not have enough processed pumpkins, we may not have enough canned pumpkin for, let’s say, Thanksgiving,” Babadoost said.

The damage can be mitigated if growers are on the lookout for it and apply fungicides, Babadoost said, but early detection is key. Early symptoms can include water-soaked spots appearing on the lower leaves of plants and on the undersides of fruit, where they touch the soil.

It’s not just commercial pumpkin growers that need to be aware. Pumpkin patches that grow the variety used for jack-o'-lanterns also need to look out for signs of the blight.

Home gardeners may also see it affect their ability to grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.