Cookies on Plantwise Knowledge Bank

Like most websites we use cookies. This is to ensure that we give you the best experience possible.

Continuing to use means you agree to our use of cookies. If you would like to, you can learn more about the cookies we use.

Plantwise Knowledge Bank
  • Knowledge Bank home
  • Change location
Plantwise Technical Factsheet

white rot of onion and garlic (Stromatinia cepivora)

Host plants / species affected
Allium cepa (onion)
Allium cepa var. aggregatum (shallot)
Allium fistulosum (Welsh onion)
Allium porrum (leek)
Allium sativum (garlic)
Allium schoenoprasum (chives)
List of symptoms/signs
Growing point  -  mycelium present
Leaves  -  abnormal colours
Leaves  -  abnormal forms
Leaves  -  wilting
Leaves  -  yellowed or dead
Roots  -  soft rot of cortex
Stems  -  mould growth on lesion
Stems  -  mycelium present
Stems  -  wilt
Whole plant  -  early senescence
Whole plant  -  plant dead; dieback
Plants may be infected at any stage of growth provided environmental conditions are favourable. Infection of seedlings occasionally occurs; however, the first infections are normally detected in plants bearing three to five leaves. Initial stages of infection are confined to the host root system and base plate (Scott, 1956). The first above-ground symptoms of infection include a yellowing of leaves beginning at the tips and progressing downward. A gradual decline in the plant continues for some days or weeks and in the case of young plants may constitute a rapid wilt and collapse of aerial parts (Walker, 1924). Ultimately the entire plant is killed. On underground parts the fungus itself is visible as superficial, fluffy white mycelium. The roots are gradually destroyed and the fungus causes a soft, watery decay of the bulb commencing at the base plate (Walker, 1924). Black spherical sclerotia, normally 200-500 µm diameter, are formed on the bulb base and within decaying root and stem tissue. A larger sclerotial form has also been reported to appear as a stromatic mantle among smaller sclerotia (Metcalf et al., 1997).

Above-ground symptoms are not normally evident until the pathogen has colonized and partially rotted the stem and leaf sheaths. Roots frequently extend horizontally, providing a direct path for mycelial growth to nearby plants. Infected plants therefore tend to occur in clusters from a few up to 40 or more adjacent plants (Crowe and Hall, 1980a).
Prevention and control

Solarization has limited usefulness for cooler climates. Some control has been achieved under experimental conditions using this method (Porter and Merriman, 1985). Soil is covered in black plastic sheets to conserve solar radiation, thus raising the temperature to levels lethal to sclerotia or more favourable for antagonistic microbes. A review of the use of soil solarization for the control of soilborne pests has been compiled by Katan (1981).


Prolonged periods of waterlogging have been associated with decline in sclerotial populations. In one study, nylon-covered PVC canisters each filled with 1000 sclerotia were buried at a depth of 10 cm in field soil which was subjected to flooding from April to October in 1992, 1993, both years, or not flooded (control). After 1 month's burial prior to flooding, 920 (mean) sclerotia per canister were recovered. In the treatment flooded in both years, the number of viable sclerotia was eight in October 1992 (survival in unflooded control: 455), and zero in October 1993 (survival in unflooded control: 422). However, in the treatment flooded only in the 1993 season, fewer viable sclerotia were recovered in the unflooded control (422) than in the treatment (670) (Crowe, 1995b). These results could reflect a greater predisposition for sclerotial decline in the first 12 months after formation - other workers have reported extensive sclerotial decay in this period (Alexander and Stewart, 1994) - or the results may be due to seasonal difference and random variation.

Host-Plant Resistance

Two types of resistance mechanisms to white rot have been identified. The first, non-stimulatory resistance, occurs where the stimulatory capacity of the root exudates is too weak to induce the sclerotia to germinate and attack the roots (Rahe, 1981). The second, tissue resistance, does not influence the number of infection sites but impedes the spread of the infection in the plant (Rahe, 1981; Brix and Zinkernagel, 1992). No resistant cultivars are currently commercially available.

Sclerotial Germination Stimulants

These compounds are imitations of the exudates of Allium roots, and when applied to the soil they trigger sclerotia to germinate. In the absence of a suitable host, the hyphae from the germinated sclerotium die, thus reducing the S. cepivorum inoculum density. The most effective compound for this purpose developed so far has been diallyl-disulphide, which has been used to induce significant reductions in sclerotial numbers at certain concentrations.

It is important to apply sclerotial germination stimulants when soil conditions are most conducive to sclerotial germination. Soil needs to be wetter than -300 millibars, and warmer than 9°C. At a matric potential of 0 and temperature of 27°C, 100% of buried sclerotia germinated, and a clear relationship between sclerotium germination and soil moisture content and temperature was established (Crowe and Hall, 1980b). Commercially acceptable levels of disease control have recently been achieved using sclerotial germination stimulants in industrial-scale trials (Dennis, 1997, 1998).

Chemical Control

Due to the variable regulations around (de-)registration of pesticides, we are for the moment not including any specific chemical control recommendations. For further information, we recommend you visit the following resources:

Integrated Pest Management

Allium white rot has caused drastic rationalization of Allium production in a number of major production areas of the world (Entwistle, 1990). Disease control has been the subject of much research and industry experimentation normally aimed at development of a singular measure for disease control. One region which has had a growing infestation of white rot since the 1970s, but where the industry has learned to continue and increase production of export onions, is Tasmania, Australia. The key to survival in this region has been an acceptance on the part of industry that there is no single cure for the Allium white rot problem. A variety of integrated measures are used to manage (rather than totally control) the disease. Onions are grown on at least a 4-year rotation with other vegetable crops. Farm hygiene measures are in place, and as far as possible are adhered to, in order to restrict dissemination. Careful records are kept on paddock history so that known infested sites are not planted without appropriate management practices. Infested sites are planted at a time of year which avoids the soil temperatures most conducive to sclerotial germination when root systems are extensive. A chemical management practice is in place, and is used in combination with planting at a time for optimal disease control. Ongoing research is conducted to work towards a better understanding of disease epidemiology, and to develop sustainable disease control strategies, for example using sclerotial germination stimulants in a field prior to planting (Dennis, 1997) then introducing a biological control agent (Metcalf and Wilson, 1997) at the time of sowing.

A number of research groups are investigating multiple approaches to disease control, for example by combining solarization, biocontrol and application of vermicompost (Pereira et al., 1996), germination stimulants, fungicides and solarization (de Visser, 1997).

On a worldwide basis, Allium white rot is probably the most serious threat to Allium crop production of any disease. It is certainly among the most important threats in most onion-producing regions, sometimes second to neck rot (Botrytis allii), leaf blight (Botrytis squamosa) or downy mildew (Peronospora destructor). It is present in almost all Allium-producing regions of the world. While some regions have been able to continue production despite infestation, the disease has never been completely successfully managed anywhere. In a number of regions the disease has been responsible for the complete collapse of the Allium production industry.
Related treatment support
Plantwise Factsheets for Farmers
Tames H.; O.; CABI, 2006, Spanish language
Pest Management Decision Guides
Sedessa, K.; G-Kidan, M.; Abate, H.; CABI, 2015, English language
External factsheets
RHS Gardening Advice Factsheets, Royal Horticultural Society, English language
Ontario CropIPM factsheets, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Canada, 2015, English language
Ontario CropIPM factsheets, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Canada, 2015, French language
University of California IPM Pest Management Guidelines, University of California, 2009, English language
TNAU Agritech Portal Crop Protection Factsheets, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, English language
Zoomed image