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Bean Pythium cottony leak (128) Print Fact Sheet

Common Name

Cottony leak and stem rot

Scientific Name

Pythium species, Pythium deliense and Pythium aphanidermatum.


Worldwide. Pythium deliense is reported from Australia, Papua New Guinea (from soil, cucumber and tobacco damping off), and Samoa (beans, cucumber). Pythium aphanidermatum is reported from American Samoa (taro, cucumber, maize), Australia, Marshall Islands (cucumber), New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (soil), Fiji (ginger), and Samoa (cucumber).


Beans (and other food legumes), capsicum, cucumber, tomato, watermelon, and on many kinds of seedlings as Pythium species cause seedling damping-off.

Symptoms & Life Cycle

The two Pythium species are very similar in appearance and biology; however, molecular studies suggest they are different.

Symptoms occur on leaves, stems, roots and seedlings. On leaves, greyish patches are seen covered in fine, white cottony growth, becoming brown as they dry. The cottony growth spreads to the stems; rots occur and plants wilt. Below ground, minute spores (zoospores) swim in soil water and attack the fine roots and kill them; this, too, causes plants to wilt.

Bean pods are attacked on plants in the field or in storage (Photos 1&2). In both cases, thick, white, cottony growth binds the pods together. Later, the pods in transit or storage turn into a soft, watery mass known as "cottony leak". Where cucumber fruits touch the ground, watery rots develop, and these too become covered in a white cottony growth (Photo 3). Watermelon, is also susceptible to the disease (Photo 4).

Damping-off is seen when seeds are planted in unsterilised or unpasteurised soils contaminated with Pythium, especially Pythium aphanidermatum. Often, fungi are also present, such as Rhizoctonia (see Fact Sheet no. 126 ) and Fusarium. Seedlings are killed before emerging above soil level or afterwards (see Fact Sheet no. 47).

Pythium species are commonly found in soil, growing in plant remains or surviving as thick-walled, round, resting spores (oospores). They are spread when heavy rains splash soil containing the spores onto leaves and stems. Spread over longer distances is through movement of infested soil or contaminated plant parts.


Pythium is a water mould belonging to the oomycetes; it is not a fungus, although its appearance and life history are similar. Generally, the two species - Pythium deliense and Pythium aphanidermatum - cause a minor disease on beans and cucumber. Losses are sometimes high in Samoa during long periods of rain. Bush beans suffer more from the disease than those that climb and need to be staked, as they are closer to the soil. On cucumbers in Samoa, the disease is worse on poorly drained soils, and where the fruits touch the ground.

Detection & Inspection

Look for the characteristic thick, white, cottony growth over leaves, stems and fruit. Look for blackened tips of the fine roots. Although this might be sufficient for a preliminary diagnosis of the disease, identification of the Pythium species requires use of morphological keys, antibody tests (ELISA) or molecular analyses.


For damping-off in the nursery:

For stem rot in the field:

For cottony leak after harvest:

Commercial growers should consider using pesticides as follows:

AUTHOR Grahame Jackson
Information (and Photo 2) Diseases of vegetable crops in Australia (2010). Editors, Denis Persley, Tony Cooke, Susan House. CSIRO Publishing. Photos 1&3 Gerlach WWP (1988) Plant diseases of Western Samoa. Samoan German Crop Protection Project, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) Gmbh, Germany. Photo 4 Jacquie (Wright) Kami, formerly Plant Pathologist, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji.

Produced with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research under project PC/2010/090: Strengthening integrated crop management research in the Pacific Islands in support of sustainable intensification of high-value crop production , implemented by the University of Queensland and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

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