History. References in the Bible - Greeks and Romans - Shakespeare - Rouen law - Superstitions - Malpighi and Grew-Hales - Unger - Berkeley - De Bary, etc. Physiology and Biology - Diagnosis - Etiology - Therapeutics. Study of causes.
Phytopathology, from Greek words which signify to treat of diseases of plants, comprises what is known of the symptoms, course, and causes of the diseases which threaten the lives of plants, or bring about injuries and abnormalities of structure. As a distinct and systematised branch of botany it is a modern study, the history of which only dates from about 1850, though the subject had been treated more or less disjointedly by several authors during the preceding century, and isolated records of diseased crops, fruit-trees, etc., exist far back in the history of Europe. The existence of mildews and blights on cereals indeed was observed and recorded by the writers of the older books of the Bible, half a dozen references to such blights being found in the Old Testament, as well as others to blasted fig trees, etc., in the New Testament. Aristotle, about 350 B.C., noticed the epidemic nature of wheat-rust. The Greeks and Romans were so well acquainted with such diseases that their philosophers speculated very shrewdly as to causes, while the people dedicated such pests to special gods. As regards the Middle Ages, we know little beyond the fact that blights and mildews existed, but Shakespeare's reference in King Lear (Act III., Sc. 4) leaves no doubt as to his acquaintance with mildew in the 17th century, and other authorities bear out the same. Even the law took cognisance of the danger of wheat-rust in 1660 in Rouen (Loverdo). Prior to the 18th century, however, only meagre notes on the subject occur scattered here and there among other matters, and much superstition existed then and later regarding these as other diseases.
Malpighi, in 1679, gave excellent figures of leaves rolled by insects and of numerous galls, the true nature of which he practically discovered by observing the insect piercing the tissues; previous observers-Pliny knew that flies emerge from galls, but thought the latter grew spontaneously- having nothing but superstitions and conjectures to offer. Grew, in 1682, also gave a capital figure and description of a leaf mined by "a small flat insect . . . which neither ranging in breadth nor striking deep into the leaf, eats so much only as lies just before it, and so runs scudding along betwixt the skin and the pulp of the leaf, leaving a whitish streak behind it, where the skin is now loose, as the measure of its voyage"-a by no means inadequate description of the injury and its cause.
During the eighteenth century several academic treatises or dissertations dealing with diseases of plants appeared.
But as a rule we only find disjointed notes. Hales (1727-33) discusses the rotting of wounds, canker, and a few other matters, but much had to be done with the microscope ere any substantial progress could be made.
With the nineteenth century, and the founding of the modern theories of nutrition by Ingenhousz, Priestley, and De Saussure, we find a new era started, As the discoveries of the microscopists continued to build up our knowledge of the anatomy of plants and began to elucidate the biology of the fungi and other cryptogams, while the chemists and physiologists laid the foundations of our modern science of plant life, it gradually became possible to tabulate and classify plant diseases, and discuss their symptoms and causes in a more scientific manner. Even in 1833, however, Turpin, and a far better observer, Unger, regarded parasitic fungi as due to diseased outgrowths of chlorophyll-corpuscles and parenchyma cells, views shared by Meyen (1837) and Schleiden (1846). We may pass over the various treatises of Wiegmann (1839), Meyen (1841), Raspail
(1846), Kuhn (1859), and a number of other works of the period, merely referring with emphasis to Berkeley's admirable papers in the Gardeners Chronicle (1854) for a summary of what was then known. All these works antedate De Bary's Morphologie und Physiologie der Pilze, etc. (1866), in which he brought together the results of his researches during the decade, proving the real nature of parasitic diseases and infection as worked out by experiments between 1853 and 1863.
This work put the whole subject of parasitic diseases of plants and animals on a new footing, and paved the way for the modern treatment of plant pathology as elaborated in the treatises of Frank (1880 and 1895), Sorauer (1886), Kirchner (1890), and others, to which the reader is referred for further details. I will merely quote the following passage from Raspail's Histoire Naturelle de la Sante et de la Maladie, 1846 (vol. ii., p. 176), in illustration of the views entertained by high authorities just prior to De Bary's work: "L'insecte qui produit les erineum, uredo, aecidium, xyloma, puccinia, n'est done plus pour nous un insecte inconnu, mais un acarus (grise), un aphis (puceron) ou un thrips, qui produit au printemps une deviation, etc."
And this view, that fungi already well known to mycologists were called forth by the punctures of insects, was regarded as not out of harmony with the idea that the fungus itself was an abnormal outgrowth of the tissues of the host.
The proper study of plant pathology presupposes and involves a knowledge of the physiology of plants, of the normal relations of the latter to their environment, and of the biology of those animals and plants (principally insects and fungi) which are parasitic on them. It is of the first importance to understand that a disease is a condition of abnormal physiology, and that the boundary lines between health and ill-health are vague and difficult to define. As with the study of the diseases of man and other animals, so with those of plants, the practice resolves itself into the accurate observation and interpretation of symptoms (Diagnosis) on the one hand, and of causes (Aetiology) on the other, before any conclusions of value can be drawn as to preventive or remedial measures (Therapeutics). In plants, however, symptoms of disease are apt to exhibit themselves in a very general manner, or at any rate it may be that our perceptions of them differentiate symptoms due to very different reactions imperfectly, probably because the organisation of the plant is less specialised than that of animals. The turning yellow and premature falling of leaves, for instance, is a frequent symptom of disease; but it may be due to a long series of different causes of ill-health-eg. drought, too high or too low a temperature, light of insufficient or of excessive intensity, a superfluity of water at the roots, the presence in the tissues of parasitic fungi, or that of worms or insects at the roots or elsewhere, poisonous gases in the air, soil, etc., and so forth. Consequently the science of plant pathology is much concerned with the direct action of external causes, which are probably less obscure than in the case of animals, though by no means always obvious. Such considerations at any rate seem to account for the fact that most authorities on plant pathology base their classification on the causes of disease, there being few noteworthy exceptions.
The bibliography here quoted will be found in Berkeley, "Vegetable Pathology," Gardener's Chronicle, 1854, p. 4; Plowright, British Uredinece and Ustilaginece, 1889; Eriksson and Henning, Die Getreideroste, Stockholm, 1896; De Bary, Comparative Morphology and Biology of the Fungi, etc., 1887; Frank, Die Krankheiten der Pflanzen, 1895-96, and scattered in the works referred to in them and in the text.