MANHATTAN, Kan. – If you’re trying to be a considerate smoker and take your habit outdoors, don’t touch the plants – even the weeds.
If you’re gardening and take a break to use a tobacco product, use soapy water to wash hands thoroughly before getting back to the green thumb work, said Ward Upham, horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.
Disease. These rules may seem anti-tobacco. What they address, however, is the health of plants that range from tomatoes to marigolds, Upham said. At issue is a disease called tobacco mosaic virus.
“As with any virus, once tobacco mosaic infects a plant, you might as well pull up the plant, bag it and throw it away,” he said.
“The best you can do is try to keep its infection from spreading, and sanitation is about the only weapon we have.
“That might sound like no big deal in a state with no tobacco farming. But, tobacco mosaic gets shipped into every U.S. state daily, because tobacco products commonly contain the virus.”
Contagious. Just handling those products can make anyone a carrier, he said. In turn, one touch from a carrier can pass the disease along.
University scientists in the U.S. tobacco states have found the virus can survive on unwashed hands for hours. It can survive on contaminated clothing for about two years, on wood benches for as long as eight years and in dried plant material (e.g., cigarette tobacco) for up to 50 years.
The virus can persist on exposed tools, in contaminated soil and on contaminated plants’ seed.
Tobacco mosaic became the world’s first identified plant virus in the mid 1800s. Since then, scientists have found infections worldwide in more than 150 types of nonwoody plants, including many vegetables, flowers and weeds.
Tomato plants. “In Kansas, it causes the most economic problems in tomato plants,” Upham said. “But, it also can attack such widely varying garden staples as peppers, eggplants, potatoes and spinach. It can affect the petunia, snapdragon, phlox and delphinium. Almost any vegetable in the cucurbit family is at risk.”
Symptoms of the virus-caused disease can vary from plant type to plant type, he said.
Generally, though, they include mottled leaf colors, distorted or downward-curling leaf growth and overall stunted plant growth. In vegetables, they may also include various kinds of fruit discolorations and either poor quality or lost production.
Reduce odds. Three additional actions can reduce the odds for an infection, the horticulturist said:
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