Plant Health Lab Services

Plant diseases are caused by a diversity of pathogens such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes and these pathogens pose a serious threat to sustainable agricultural production systems. Efficient and early diagnosis of disease-causing pathogens is essential for implementation of control strategies to mitigate negative economic impacts.

Perennia’s Plant Health Lab was created in 2018 to help local producers through classical and molecular approaches for early disease diagnostics. Perennia’s team of commodity specialists supports our lab and together we provide growers with a holistic approach to managing pathogens.

The lab is constantly growing to serve you better, so please contact our pathologist and molecular biologist to learn more about our offerings. If you have general questions and comments, please contact us below.

Order Tests

Read about pricing, payment options and sample submission.
Learn more about how to submit a sample.
View our Plant Health Lab testing protocol.

Please review the sample submission guidelines and fill out a sample submission form. If you have any questions please contact our Plant Health Lab staff at planthealthlab@perennia.ca

Drop off Locations

Samples can be dropped off at our Kentville office (28 Aberdeen Street) or our Truro office (173 Dr. Bernie MacDonald Dr, Bible Hill) between the hours of
8:00 am – 4:30 pm Monday to Thursday and from 8:00 am – 1:00 pm on Friday.

If you are not able to drop off your samples in person, the Plant Health Lab does accept samples by mail.

If you plan to mail your samples, please contact the Plant Health Lab Staff at planthealthlab@perennia.ca to discuss shipping recommendations to best preserve sample quality.

Mail in Locations

For DISEASE samples, mail to:
Plant Health Lab
c/o Perennia Food and Agriculture Corporation
173 Dr Bernie MacDonald Drive,
Bible Hill, Nova Scotia B6L 2H5
PDF Form – Diseases

For VIRUS or NEMATODE samples, mail to:
Plant Health Lab
c/o Perennia Food and Agriculture Corporation
28 Aberdeen Street,
Kentville, Nova Scotia B4N 2N1
PDF Form – Viruses
PDF Form – Nematode

Plant Disease Diagnostics

Fungi

Fungi and fungi-like organisms inflict huge yield losses globally despite the abundant use of fungicides. Plant pathogenic fungi cause disease symptoms on all plant parts (seed, seedling, leaves, fruits, and root). Symptoms may include spots and blights on leaves, stems, and fruit, rots of tubers, cankers, damping off, seedling and plant diebacks, galls, and wilts. Their early detection in infected plant tissue will ensure taking preventative measures.

Fungal disease diagnosis at the Plant Health lab consists of classical approaches based on visual disease symptoms, hyphal and spore morphology, shape and size of conidia and other fruiting structures. Fungal infections are often systemic, and plant tissue is surface sterilized followed by incubation either on sterile filter paper under humid conditions or incubated on selective media for their successful isolation and identification. In some cases, molecular methods such as PCR and DNA sequencing are used to resolve the causal species.

Depending on the crop or the symptom area, there are specific sampling instructions. Please contact our Field Plant Pathologist for details, but below are some general guidelines:

  • Briefly describe the problem/symptoms on the sample submission form.
  • Sample must be representative of the symptoms observed in the field.
  • Select samples that are still alive with visible symptoms. Dead or dying tissue should not be sampled.
  • Plants should be dug (not pulled) so the entire root system remains intact.
  • Be sure to collect the sample prior to pesticide application. Pesticides may interfere with diagnosis.
  • Wrap the plant/plant parts in a paper towel and enclose it in a plastic bag so that the sample does not dry out. Be sure to shake off any excess soil from the roots or send them in a separate plastic bag.
  • Specimen must be fresh. If a sample cannot be mailed immediately, keep it refrigerated or in a cool area out of sunlight.
  • Shipping samples immediately after sampling is the best option. Otherwise, samples can be stored briefly at 4-10°C until they can be shipped. DO NOT freeze samples or expose them to heat.
  • Pack the sample securely in the Styrofoam/cardboard box and mail it or drop off.
  • If possible, choose the fastest method to mail out the sample. Mail early in the week to avoid weekend delays.
  • Please include completed submission form(s) for each sample.
  • Please contact the Perennia Plant Health Lab at planthealth@Perennia.ca to notify us of incoming samples

Drop off or Mail to:

Perennia Food & Agriculture
28 Aberdeen Street, Unit 6
Kentville, Nova Scotia B4N 2N1
877-710-5210

Figure 1. Anthracnose (Colletotrichum acutatum) (fungal) of strawberry sample submission with diseased root tissue and healthy plant tissue.

Figure 2: Plant sample cutting diagram. Position 1 indicates where a leaf tissue sample should be taken (try and include at least four leaves). Position 2 indicates where a stem tissue sample should be taken (make sure to include both healthy and diseased tissue). Position 3 indicates where a root tissue sample should be taken.

Bacteria

The diseases caused by bacteria in horticultural crops impose varying degrees of economic impacts. Many genera of bacteria, Agrobacterium (galls on plants), Ralstonia (wilts), Pseudomonas, Xanthomonas or Pantoea (leaf spot, blight, blast, cankers and wilt), Corynebacterium or Curtobacterium (leaf spot, fruit spot and wilt) and Erwinia or Dickeya (soft rot or wilt) are known plant pathogenic bacteria.

At the Plant Health Lab, our plant pathologists use visual disease symptoms, bacterial streaming, culturing on selective media and DNA sequencing to identify the causal bacterial species.

Depending on the crop or the symptom area, there are specific sampling instructions. Please contact our Field Plant Pathologist for details, but below are some general guidelines:

  • Briefly describe the problem/symptoms on the sample submission form.
  • Sample must be representative of the symptoms observed in the field.
  • Select samples that are still alive with visible symptoms. Dead or dying tissue should not be sampled.
  • Plants should be dug (not pulled) so the entire root system remains intact.
  • Be sure to collect the sample prior to pesticide application. Pesticides may interfere with diagnosis.
  • Wrap the plant/plant parts in a paper towel and enclose it in a plastic bag so that the sample does not dry out. Be sure to shake off any excess soil from the roots or send them in a separate plastic bag.
  • Specimen must be fresh. If a sample cannot be mailed immediately, keep it refrigerated or in a cool area out of sunlight.
  • Shipping samples immediately after sampling is the best option. Otherwise, samples can be stored briefly at 4-10°C until they can be shipped. DO NOT freeze samples or expose them to heat.
  • Pack the sample securely in the Styrofoam/cardboard box and mail it or drop off.
  • If possible, choose the fastest method to mail out the sample. Mail early in the week to avoid weekend delays.
  • Please include completed submission form(s) for each sample.
  • Please contact the Perennia Plant Health Lab at planthealth@Perennia.ca to notify us of incoming samples

Drop off or Mail to:

Perennia Food & Agriculture
28 Aberdeen Street, Unit 6
Kentville, Nova Scotia B4N 2N1
877-710-5210

Figure 1: Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (bacterial) of apple sample submission with diseased and healthy stem and leaf tissue.

Figure 2: Plant sample cutting diagram. Position 1 indicates where a leaf tissue sample should be taken (try and include at least four leaves). Position 2 indicates where a stem tissue sample should be taken (make sure to include both healthy and diseased tissue). Position 3 indicates where a root tissue sample should be taken.

Viruses

Plant viruses are obligate parasites that infect host plants and use their cellular machinery to replicate and proliferate. They can gain entry into a plant in many different ways, including vectors (i.e., nematodes, aphids, whiteflies), vegetative propagation and wounding. The symptoms associated with virus infection can vary greatly and can be confused with other common abiotic and biotic stressors. They can affect many different marketable parts of plants (i.e., leaves, flowers, fruit and stems), resulting in reduced yield and quality. Once a plant is infected with a virus, it is infected for life, and depending on how the virus is transmitted, it can spread to neighbouring healthy plants in a field or greenhouse.

Diagnosis of viruses by eye is very challenging due to their variation in symptoms. A laboratory test is the most reliable form of diagnosis, such as an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The Plant Health Lab currently offers PCR testing for grapevine, raspberry and strawberry viruses

Depending on the crop, there are specific sampling instructions. Please reference the Plant Health Lab website or contact our molecular biologist at planthealthlab@perennia.ca for details.

Found below are some general guidelines for submitting samples.

  • Collect mature leaves that are free of disease, insects and mechanical damage. Leaves should not be senescing or dropping. Leaves should be dry.
  • Individual plants can be tested, or leaves can be pooled from a field. For an individual plant, it is recommended that four leaves be sampled from different portions of the plant, and the plant be flagged in the field. If pooling samples, multiple pooled samples from a field should be taken in a systematic pattern to get an idea of virus pressure across the whole field.
  • Leaves should be submitted with petioles (leaf stem) intact. This can be achieved by slowly bending the petiole back until it is released from the stem. Avoid touching the ends of petioles to avoid cross-contamination.
  • See Fungal/Bacterial Submission Guidelines above for shipping instructions.
  • Do not add moisture to the bag, and do not freeze samples.
  • If storing/shipping with ice/ice pack, put an insulative barrier (such as a piece of cardboard) between the samples and the ice/ice pack to prevent direct contact. Otherwise, samples can freeze, especially grape tissue.

Nematodes

Plant parasitic nematodes are soil-inhabiting microscopic worms (most less than 1 mm in length). They are ubiquitous, found in all climates and every type of soil. They use a stylet (a needle shaped structure)  and a battery of enzymes to puncture and parasitize roots and underground parts (e.g., rhizomes, tubers) of live host plants. Based on their feeding behaviour, they can be classified into ectoparasites, migratory endoparasites and sedentary endo-parasites. The ectoparasites remain in the soil and feed on the epidermal or the outer cortical cells of roots. Migratory endo-parasitic nematodes penetrate roots and feed on cell contents, but they remain mobile and can switch their feeding site. Sedentary endo-parasitic nematodes become sedentary after root penetration and remain associated with their feeding sites. A proper identification of nematode species diversity and population density are important aspects for their effective management.

The Plant Health Lab uses the sieving sucrose-centrifugation method to extract nematodes from soil, as well as conventional microscopy for identification.

Found below are some general guidelines for submitting samples.

  • Walk the field/sampling area in a zigzag pattern to ensure adequate coverage of the entire area. Watch the nematode sampling video for more specific crop information.
  • Collect 20-30 soil cores using a soil probe or auger from the sampling area, keeping all soil in the sampling bucket. Discard the top 1-2 cm of soil (to remove foliage, roots, etc.) before putting the sample in the bucket. Collect soil samples from a depth of 30 cm.
  • Once all soil cores have been obtained, thoroughly mix the soil being sure to remove excess debris (rocks, roots, organic matter). Transfer approximately 1lb/500g of the mixed soil into a ziploc bag.
  • Clean the probe/auger and bucket with water (scrub with a brush if necessary) to remove soil residue.
  • Place the soil sample in a chilled cooler. Nematodes are sensitive to changes in temperature, so take care that the sample bags do not come into direct contact with the ice packs. A piece of cardboard between the sample bags and ice is adequate and will prevent the bags from getting soggy with condensation.
  • Store samples in the fridge (4-10oC) and before dropping off or mailing samples to a Perennia office.

Our Team

Molecular Biologist, Matthew Peill, MSc

Matthew has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from St. Francis Xavier University (2016), and recently completed his Master’s of Science in Biology at Acadia University (2021). His master’s work focused on strawberry aphids and their role as the primary vector of strawberry decline disease associated viruses. As a horticulture specialist at Perennia Matthew worked with small fruit and vegetables producers throughout Nova Scotia addressing production issues. From both his education and previous work with Perennia, Matthew has gained extensive experience with a wide variety of horticultural crops, as well as with plant viruses in field and laboratory settings.

Horticulturist and Field Plant Pathologist, Dustin MacLean, M.Sc. P.Ag

Dustin published two peer reviewed journal articles from his MSc work in the Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology and Crop Protection. He also conducted field disease surveys across Saskatchewan during this time and published three of these in the Canadian Plant Disease Survey on stripe rust, smut, and leaf spots of wheat. Upon completion of his MSc, he worked during the later portion of 2016 at the University of Saskatchewan where he identified plant pathogens in field pea that were present in studies conducted by the pulse crop plant physiology lab.

DISCLAIMER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY

Please be advised that where a sample, provided by the Client, has tested negative for the presence of a virus or a pathogen that this negative test does not prove unequivocally the absence of virus or pathogen. This potential for a False Negative Test is due to seasonal and temporal fluctuation in pathogen levels, the inherent limitations of sampling and testing protocols, and the possibility of pathogen strain variability.  Therefore, Perennia makes no representations or warranties to the Client, that a negative test result from a sample is unequivocally free of infection, and subsequently Perennia shall not be liable for any loss or damage suffered by the Client due to any resulting management decisions the Client makes based on the negative test results. The Client agrees that any and all claims for loss or damage which the Client has or in the future may have against Perennia arising out of or related to the provision of Services, whether such claim is founded in contract or tort, shall be strictly limited to the amount of fees actually paid by the Client to Perennia for the Services. This disclaimer and release of liability shall also be binding upon the Client’s successors, heirs, executors, and administrators.

USE OF INFORMATION

By submitting a sample to Perennia, the Client agrees to the use of the Client’s test results for research purposes only in an anonymous aggregate form. Perennia treats all information collected by the Perennia as confidential subject to meeting the requirements under the law.