The devastating citrus disease huanglongbing (HLB) associated with the phloem-limited bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) has caused a more than 70% reduction in citrus production since its discovery in Florida in 2005. Most citrus scion cultivars are sensitive to HLB, whereas some cultivars used as rootstocks are tolerant. Using such tolerant rootstocks can help trees to cope better with the disease’s impact. Evaluating rootstock effects on a grafted scion in the field takes many years, but shorter-term evaluation is imperative to aid in rootstock selection for an HLB-endemic production environment. In this study, we investigated grafted healthy and CLas-infected citrus trees under controlled greenhouse conditions. The objectives were to identify traits suitable for assessing grafted tree tolerance in advance of longer-term field studies and aiding in the selection of superior rootstock cultivars. We assessed 10 commercially important rootstocks grafted with ‘Valencia’ sweet orange scion and with known field performance. At 6, 9, 15, and 21 months after graft inoculation (mai), leaf CLas titers were determined and canopy health was evaluated. Plants were destructively sampled at 21 mai to assess plant biomasses and other physiological and horticultural variables. There was little influence of the rootstock cultivar on CLas titers. Surprisingly, few HLB foliar disease symptoms and no differences in soluble and nonsoluble carbohydrate concentrations were measured in infected compared with healthy plants, despite high CLas titers and significant reductions in plant biomasses. Most trees on rootstocks with trifoliate orange parentage were less damaged by HLB than other rootstocks, although results did not always agree with reported field performance. Among the different variables measured, leaf size appeared to be most predictive for grafted tree assessment of HLB sensitivity. The results of this study provide a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of assessing rootstock influence on grafted tree performance in a controlled greenhouse environment. Although such studies provide valuable information for cultivar tolerance to HLB, other rootstock traits will ultimately contribute to field survival and productivity in an HLB endemic production environment.
Grafting a scion onto a rootstock results in physical and physiological changes in plant growth and development, which can affect tree vigor, productivity, and tolerance to stress and disease. Huanglongbing (HLB) is one of the most destructive citrus diseases and has become endemic in Florida since its introduction in 2005. It is associated with the phloem-limited bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas), which cause severe metabolic disruptions in affected plants. Although most scion cultivars are highly susceptible, some rootstock cultivars are tolerant and allow the grafted tree to cope better with the disease. The objectives of this study were to identify rootstock traits that can be used to assess cultivars under controlled greenhouse conditions in advance of longer-term field trials. We used 10 commercially important rootstocks with different genetic backgrounds and known field performance in graft combination with ‘Valencia’ sweet orange scion. Trees were graft-inoculated with CLas and compared against mock-inoculated trees. Tree health and CLas populations were assessed regularly, and root growth was monitored using a minirhizotron imaging system. Plants were excavated and destructively sampled 21 months after inoculation to assess biomass distributions and other CLas-induced effects. We found significant differences between healthy and infected trees for most variables measured, regardless of the rootstock. In contrast to leaf CLas titers, root titers were significantly influenced by the rootstock, and highest levels were measured for ‘Ridge’ sweet orange and sour orange. Root growth and root biomasses were reduced upon infection but differences among rootstocks did not always agree with reported field performances. Despite severe biomass reductions plants maintained their relative distribution of biomass among different components of the root system, and no dead roots were observed. Root respiration was reduced by CLas infection and was overall higher in tolerant cultivars suggesting its potential as a physiological marker. This study improves our knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of assessing rootstock traits of grafted trees in a controlled greenhouse setting. Results from the study suggest that in addition to HLB tolerance, other rootstock traits will ultimately have major contributions to field survival and productivity of the grafted trees in an HLB endemic production environment.