When a living organism's cells or tissues die or degenerate, the condition is called necrosis. In a plant, necrosis causes leaves, stems and other parts to darken and wilt. Necrosis weakens the plant and makes it more susceptible to other diseases and pests. Some plant diseases caused by a specific agent have the word "necrosis" in their name, such as tomato pith necrosis. However, necrosis is typically considered a symptom rather than a disease.
Plants don't require large amounts of nutrients, but necrosis can occur when nutrients aren't available. Depleted soil, incorrect soil pH for the plant or the wrong fertilizer can cause nutrient deficiency. Extremely low phosphorus initially causes the plant's leaves to look bright green, but eventually the older leaves turn necrotic. Other nutrients for which deficiency leads to necrosis include potassium, nitrogen, boron, iron and nickel.
Viruses require the cells of plants to grow and reproduce. As a virus uses the plant as a host, the plant's energy is diverted to the virus rather than to the plant's growth. Over time, this energy depletion leads to necrosis in the area where the virus lives. Viruses typically only infect specific areas of a plant and rarely kill the entire plant. To get rid of a virus, remove and destroy the affected area of the plant. If the problem persists, destroy the entire plant and replace it with a virus-resistant variety.
Fungal and Bacterial Problems
Fungal and bacterial problems in plants often present on the leaves. The infection starts as gray, white, red, yellow or brown leaf spots. If left untreated, the infection eventually turns the leaf necrotic. Fungi typically invade from the plant surface, while bacteria enter through openings on the plant. In addition to selecting disease-resistant plants, you can avoid bacterial and fungal diseases by not letting plants stay wet, maintaining air flow around plants and removing affected leaves as soon as possible.
Although some nematodes benefit the garden by eating pests, others infect plant tissue and cause necrosis. Shoot nematodes (Aphelenchoides spp.) eat their way through the spaces between leaf veins, eventually causing structural problems and necrosis. Applying beneficial nematodes, using nematode-resistant plants and rotating crops help prevent nematode problems.
- Oregon State University Extension: Necrosis
- The New Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- A to Z Master Gardener Manual: Diagnosing Plant Damage
About the Author
Based in Portland, Ore., Tammie Painter has been writing garden, fitness, science and travel articles since 2008. Her articles have appeared in magazines such as "Herb Companion" and "Northwest Travel" and she is the author of six books. Painter earned her Bachelor of Science in biology from Portland State University.