Daffodils versus Tylenchus devastratix and People versus COVID 19

We are well into what is the most exciting and exhilarating part of the year for most gardening enthusiasts – the spring! To say a dampener has been thrown over the season would be an understatement to say the least! With the Corona virus wreaking havoc throughout the whole world leaving a trail of disease, devastation and death who you may ask has the energy to get out and start turning the fresh spring earth? Well, even if you don’t feel like it I’d advise you to try to get out into the garden and enjoy the sites and smells of spring – these alone should be enough to lift your mood if you’ve been feeling blue from self isolating with only bad news for company! If you can get down to some real gardening too this is proven to give you a real mental and physical boost.

I’d like to share a little known story about how the UK’s best known spring flower – the daffodil – was almost wiped out over a century ago and how a lone scientist identified and solved the problem. This should give us encouragement that God willing the same thing will happen with the corona virus currently threatening us all!

In 1916 daffodil growers were losing entire crops to a strange disease which was causing their daffodils’ leaves to twist, their bulbs discolor and their plants to wither and die. Many horticulturists thought a fungus must be the culprit, but standard fungal treatments didn’t seem to have any affect at stemming the disease.

Eventually the RHS decided to appoint a specialist to investigate and solve the daffodil epidemic; the job was given to 24-year-old James Kirkham Ramsbottom, a top horticultural student at RHS Wisley.  To supply him with the necessary materials, the RHS asked growers to send in their diseased bulbs. The response, Ramsbottom wrote in a paper published several months later, was “splendid. . . . Hundreds of bulbs passed through my hands even during the first few weeks of the investigation.”  Eventually Ramsbottom identified the culprit not to be a fungus but rather a parasite namely Tylenchus devastratix – the stem eelworm. After much experimenting he discovered that the most effective way of treating diseased bulbs was to immerse them in hot water at 110 Fahrenheit for between two to four hours and this would kill off the eelworms. He devised a copper boiler with a steel mesh to treat the bulbs and his method is still used by growers today.

Ramsbottom (top left) used a copper boiler with a removable basket in his daffodil parasite experiments

So just like the daffodil eelworm which at one point looked like wiping out daffodils from these shores was defeated a hundred years ago let’s hope and pray that the same will happen to COVID 19 and like Boris said  “we’ll send it packing”!

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