Most of us in the houseplant world heard rumblings about the Mosaic Virus. What is it? How do we deal with it?
What is the Mosaic Virus?
The Mosaic Virus is a virus that attacks plants at a molecular level. The virus involves tiny organisms entering the plant’s system, taking protein from the plants cells to grow and spread throughout the plant. There are three main types of the Mosaic Virus. Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV) and Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) mainly affect nightshade plants and Cruciferous vegetables. Dasheen Mosaic Virus (DMV) mainly affects plants in the Aroid family like Peace lilies, Philodendrons, and Monsteras. The virus creates abnormalities in the appearance in the texture and color of the plant’s leaves and will stunt its growth.
How To Tell If A Plant Is Infected
There are a few key signs that your plant is infected with the Mosaic Virus. The entire plant can be affected, or just one or two leaves. The plant's leaves can become dull and blotchy in color and become curled or wrinkled. The color changes come in mosaic like patterns, spots or stripes and it varies from yellow, white and a gradation of green. Veins can also be impacted by the virus by turning them yellow. The growth of the plant might remain stunted, and it’s fruit and flowers can have ‘warts’ and blotchy coloring as well.
It’s good to keep in mind that improper care of a plant (i.e. improper watering, high humidity or too much sunlight) can create symptoms similar to these. So it’s vital to quarantine plants when you’re first concerned and properly assess for other possibilities before the final decision of destroying the plant.
How It Spreads
One important reason why the first step is to quarantine the plant is that small insects like aphids, flies, beetles, mites, roundworms, and thrips will spread the virus by hopping from plant to plant.
Crowded plants are also able to spread the virus via touch. Using contaminated clippers on an infected plant and continuing to clip others will spread it if cleaning is not done in between plants. Contaminated pots, seeds (from infected plants) and soil (left over from infected plants) will also continue the virus.
Types of Mosaic virus
Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV)
This type of Mosaic virus affects plants in the Solanaceae family (night shades), which predominantly are grown outside. It generally affects the younger leaves, turning them blotchy and twisted. It will survive outside even after the plant has met its death and will spread through seeds, plant to plant contact and soil contamination.
Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV)
This type of Mosaic Virus affects cucumber, melon, leafy greens, tulips, petunias, lilies, bamboo, and other herbaceous or woody plants. It also stunts its growth, leaves blotches of color, yellowing of the veins. The one way that makes this virus unique is that it can create something called the shoestring syndrome. This causes the leaves to appear very thin in width, compressed and creates separation within the individual leaf. Bugs like aphids, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, and whiteflies have no problems transmitting the virus as well as contaminated soil, pots and seeds.
Dasheen Mosaic Virus (DMV)
This type of mosaic virus affects a lot of household plants, especially those in the Aroid family (Pothos, Philodendrons, Alocasias, Monsteras, ZZ plants, Aglaonemas, Arrowhead vines, Colocasias, etc).
You can tell by the light green streaks alongside or in between the plant veins, the mosaic like patterns and texture, and/or the blotches of color. New growth can remain twisted and leaves may not be able to open fully. Houseplants with DMV can be silent carriers, have only one or two affected leaves, or have the entire plant infected. Plants can also contaminate the pots and soils they’re living in so it’s very important to dispose of the soil and thoroughly clean the pots with hot soapy water before reusing.
What To Do
So far no cure is known to combat the Mosaic Virus, and seeing how easily the disease can be spread through plants the best way to deal with it is to remove the plant from your collection.
It’s important to dispose of it properly by either throwing the plant and soil out, or by burning them. Adding the plant to your compost pile will continue to spread the virus to your new plants through contaminated soil. As heartbreaking the idea is, it’s not worth having the virus spread throughout your collection.
The very first thing that should be done when a new plant is brought home, or when signs of the virus is starting, is to quarantine the plant for a minimum of a few weeks. This will ensure time to monitor for pests and signs of disease. It’s also good to regularly inspect and treat all your plants with whichever insecticide treatment works for you. This will minimize potential pests from spreading the virus.
Using a mixture of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water to sterilize all tools used for the plants like clippers, stakes and ties can so stop the spread too. It’s very important to sterilize clippers between cutting back plants. Using a spray bottle with the 1-3 bleach mixture can make this an easy task to do. Also washing out your used pots (that may be contaminated) with hot, soapy water is recommended.
One last important key is that if you smoke tobacco, smoke away from your plants and make sure you wash your hands before handling them. The tobacco can be infected and will be passed on to your plants that way.