URBANA, Ill. – Since 1976, the University of Illinois Plant Clinic has served as a clearinghouse for plant problems. The Plant Clinic was originally developed to help County Cooperative Extension staff and campus-based specialists with requests for diagnoses on a wide variety of plants.
“By acting as a centralized diagnostic laboratory, the Plant Clinic also serves as a source of information about plant problems in Illinois,” says University of Illinois Extension educator Diane Plewa.
For most of its existence, the Plant Clinic was open from May through October. Since 2010, the Plant Clinic has been open year-round. During the off-season, staff compile reports, write fact sheets, and present at conferences and meetings around the state. The Plant Clinic has taken a lead role in the Illinois First Detector Invasive Species Workshops, which started in 2013. The workshops are held every year in various locations across Illinois and educate green professionals, city and municipal employees, and concerned public about invasive plants, insects, and diseases that threaten Illinois horticulture and agriculture.
For the past several years, the Plant Clinic has processed over 4,000 plant and soil samples annually. The vast majority of the plant samples are analyzed for disease and insect problems, though plant and insect identification is also performed. Soil samples are analyzed for nematode populations, including soybean cyst nematode and vermiform pathogenic nematodes.
“Last year, a new service testing for herbicide resistance in waterhemp was offered,” Plewa notes. “Protocols for molecular testing for glyphosate and PPO-inhibitor resistance were adapted from ones developed in U of I researcher Patrick Tranel’s laboratory. Over the course of the year, 338 fields (representing 1350 plants) were analyzed. Plants were submitted from Illinois and four other Midwestern states.”
The Plant Clinic has worked with the Soybean Board and the Sentinel Plant Network to stay aware of new threats in Illinois. Last year, several new pests were identified, including jumping worms (an invasive earthworm) in northern Illinois, and tar spot of corn in north/central Illinois. This disease was found in Illinois and Indiana in 2015 and was a first find in the country.
The Plant Clinic also works with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Illinois Crop Improvement Association to certify crops for export, and has a partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to monitor the health of natural areas in Illinois.
“The Plant Clinic employs undergraduate and graduate students, providing them with hands-on experience working in a plant diagnostic laboratory and expanding their outreach skills,” Plewa says.
Staff write articles for various online newsletters, including the Home, Yard, and Garden Pest Newsletter (http://hyg.ipm.illinois.edu/) and The Bulletin (http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/). The Plant Clinic participated in the ACES Family Academies in 2015, where youth ages 6-13 got a chance to use microscopes, inoculate plants, and wash soil to collect nematode eggs. Departmental service includes opening the laboratory for tours and hands-on activities for students, and outreach at events such as Agronomy Day held every August.
For more information about the Plant Clinic, including contact information and instructions on submitting samples, please see our website at: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/plantclinic/. The clinic is celebrating 40 years of service to the state of Illinois all season long on its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/UofIPlantClinic/) and is looking forward to another 40 years of helping people with their plant problems.