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The Vertifolia Effect

The vertifolia effect was discovered by Van der Plank (1963) who named it after a potato cultivar of this name, in which the effect was very pronounced. The vertifolia effect is a loss of horizontal resistance which occurs during breeding for vertical resistance. Its meaning was later extended to include the loss of horizontal resistance that occurs during breeding under the protection of pesticides.

The level of horizontal resistance can only be assessed by the level of parasitism. Clearly, if there is no parasitism because of a functioning vertical resistance, or a pesticide, the level of horizontal resistance cannot be assessed. Because individual plants with a high level of horizontal resistance are rather rare in a mixed screening population, the chances are that individuals with a relatively low level of horizontal resistance will then be selected on the basis of their other attributes. The loss is usually quite small in a single breeding cycle but, after many cycles, it can become very serious indeed.

The prime example of the vertifolia effect is the loss of horizontal resistance to potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) that has continued ever since both the discovery of Bordeaux mixture in the late nineteenth century, and the discovery of vertical resistance in the twentieth century. A loss of horizontal resistance to cotton pests has continued ever since the discovery of DDT in the 1940s.

The vertifolia effect is a very modern phenomenon. Its overall consequences are seen in the high levels of horizontal resistance in heritage cultivars, when they are compared to modern cultivars. This is the main reason why heritage cultivars are so valued by organic farmers.

One of the main objectives of most amateur plant breeders will be to restore the horizontal resistances that were lost to the vertifolia effect.

Van der Plank, J.E. (1963): Plant Diseases; Epidemics and Control. Academic Press, New York & London, 349pp.