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Hosta Virus

A Hosta Virus to be wary of
by Carla Allen
by Carla Allen

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

Carla Allen has been gardening for the past 25 years, co-owned a nursery in southwestern Nova Scotia for 16 years.

Carla has an extensive image library and nurtures a network of horticulture in the region. She was the first president of the Yarmouth Garden Club.

July 2, 2006

Viruses may not have the same effect in the plant kingdom as they do in humans, but they’re still something to be concerned about. A reader contacted me recently to see if I could provide more information on a virus that is sweeping the hosta world.

The disease, called Hosta Virus X, or HVX for short, is most apparent on gold and gold-centered plants as random green mottling. It’s almost always accompanied by speckling that follows the veins and often has the appearance of ink on blotting paper soaking out from the line along the vein.

This gardener told me that he had seen virus infected plants at Truro and at a nursery in Summerside, PEI. He is concerned that some suppliers are selling these plants as new varieties because of the attractive mottling effect the virus has on the leaves. “I'm not big on ebay but I understand a lot of money passed hands for these plants,” he said.

I spoke to Ferdinand Otawa, a customer service representative for Vanhof & Blokker, one of the largest bare-root perennial suppliers in the country. They ship out hundreds of thousands of hostas each season, from BC to Newfoundland. Otawa confirmed that the virus is a problem in the industry and that many are unaware that it is a ticking time bomb, believing it to be a desirable effect.

“Over time it will weaken the plant, like any virus. The first year it looks just like a new cultivar. We’ve had people call us and say “oh, I have this neat new hosta,” and we say, “no, what you have is a hosta that’s on its way to being toast,” said Otawa. He added that the seriousness of this virus has become more apparent during the past year.

“It’s really been about the past 12 months that it’s come to the attention of most growers and distributors. It affects some varieties much moreso than others - Sum & Substance and Gold Standard are particularly susceptible to it. There is no cure for the virus, ” he said.

“They say the only real protection that you have if you come across a bad batch and these plants start showing up, is to pull them and destroy them,” said Otawa.

Vanhof & Blokker deal with rootstock imported mostly from Holland. Their two largest suppliers use the “Elisa” test on plant crowns when they break dormancy. The company has not had to destroy plants to date and Otawa feels comfortable that their plants are virus-free.

“But like most viruses the spores can be airborne, so if there’s any within a couple of hundred yards or whatever the windblown range might be, it can be transmitted. If you have workers in one patch crossing over to another without disinfecting, then it can be transmitted,” he said.

Otawa says he expects the problem to even bigger over time because a lot of places, particularly mass marketers, sell these plants and the customer has them in the garden before they realize they are infected by the virus. “You can’t cure it. There’s no preventative other than buying from a reputable source,” stressed Otawa.

For pictures of infected hostas, visit


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