The Q&A Archives: Tobacco Mosaic Virus

Question: What are the symptoms of tobacco mosaic virus, how does the disease spread, is there a possiblity of a tobacco chewer starting an outbreak?

Answer: Mosaic infects members of the nightshade family which includes tomatoes and many common weeds along with cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkin, pepper, spinach, and many other vegetables, flowers, and weeds. Symptoms of a virus infection include light and dark green mottled areas on the leaves, unusual leaf thickening, stunting, and sometimes distorted, fernlike foliage. Although the virus doesn't usually kill plants, it can reduce yields dramatically, and if affected plants are allowed to remain in the garden, the virus can persist for years in the soil.

Mosaic virus is spread by contact -- by gardeners, visitors, or insects. It would be possible, for example, for tomato plants to be infected with the virus after being touched by a person who smokes or chews or by contact with any form of tobacco. Insects may also transmit it from plant to plant.

The control measures are basically related to garden sanitation and prevention. Some gardeners will actually exclude all tobacco and people who handle it from the garden, but in any case remove infected plants and burn them, control surrounding weeds, wash your hands and tools with detergent, use fresh soil and clean equipment for seedlings or if you purchase them be sure they are virus free, grow resistant varieties. In some instances controlling insect pests will also help.

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