The Q&A Archives: Pine Blister Rust

Question: We have an old white pine tree which has some needles turning brown while others still look quite healthy. A man who takes down trees told us that it was pine blister rust and that the alternate host was gooseberry. We have no gooseberries planted and are wondering if this condition will eventually kill the tree or if it is just unsightly to look at.

Answer: White pine blister rust is recognizable by small orange blisters on the trunk, not necessarily by brown needles. There are so many reasons that a white pine may have brown needles that that symptom alone is not a reliable way to diagnose the problem. Some major causes are environmental -- white pines are intolerant of salt spray (foliage will brown near salted roadways) and air pollution, and the foliage can sometimes be desiccated by dry winter winds in particularly windswept areas. Also, pines shed old needles annually.

White pine blister rust is a two-host disease, and the alternate hosts are Ribes species, including currants and gooseberries. In other words, the disease doesn't spread from pine to pine, but requires an intermediate host. If your pine does have blister rust, it will most likely eventually kill the tree. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop the decline.

But, before asuming the worst, I would suggest contacting a professional arborist to come look at your tree.

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