The Q&A Archives: Diseased Black Eyed Susans

Question: I had some volunteer Black Eyed Susans come up in the middle of my lawn this summer and they've flowered wonderfully all summer. However, some of them have what appear to be shoots or new flower stalks coming from the centers of the flowers, with green "petals" or bracts. It's almost as if the individual seeds of the original flower heads have sprouted. I have never seen or heard of such a thing before. Any ideas as to what's going on?

Answer: Sounds as though your plants are affected with a viral disease called Aster Yellows. The disease is caused by a mycoplasmic organism spread by sucking insects such as the tarnished plant bug and leaf hoppers, the same way mosquitos spread malaria among people. You can protect your plants in many of the same ways that people protect themselves from viral diseases: keep infected plants away from uninfected ones and insects (cover them with row covers and pull out diseased plants); keep plants healthy so they can fight disease, and grow resistant varieties if they are available. Other ways to keep vector insects (the ones who spread the disease) from your prized flowers: mix up your plantings to confuse the pests, and keep weeds under control, since weeds are great places for low-life pests to hang out. Hope these suggestions help!

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