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RHS Gardening Advice received hundreds of enquiries in 2011 about cordylines that were badly affected by the cold weather the previous December. As well as the crown of leaves being badly damaged by frost, the stems often oozed a smelly liquid that indicated a bacterial infection.
There are two problems that are connected. The first is frost damage. This causes ice crystals to form in the water-conducting vessels in the stem and roots (where exposed to cold), leading to tissue damage. These wounds then provide entry points for the second problem: bacterial slime flux. The bacteria doesn't actively 'attack' the cordyline but will enter through this damaged tissue.
Slime flux is not usually fatal. It lives mainly in the damaged and rotting tissue. However, as it appears in damaged tissue (caused by frost), it is likely that this area of stem is dead/rotting/dying anyway; and so will need to be removed.
There are no preventative or control measures, unfortunately, as the main cause of these problems was the intense cold in December 2010. However, here are some steps you can take to deal with this issue if it occurs after other severe winters.
Cordyline slime flux develops when a damaged part of the stem becomes colonised by bacteria that normally reside harmlessly in the soil or on the stem surface. Any factor that injures the stem can lead to the problem developing, however, the current problem is connected to frost damage to the bark and roots.
The bacteria penetrate deep into the stem tissues, and when the sugary sap rises in spring this is fermented by the bacteria to produce the foul-smelling slime. Gasses are also produced which force the slime out under pressure and may result in further stem splitting. A range of bacterial species, as well as other organisms such as yeasts and fungi, are often found within the slime, all taking advantage of the sugars within the sap.
Slime flux and a similar disease called bacterial wetwood are also found quite frequently on the stems of a wide range of trees and shrubs. The biology is similar to that of clematis slime flux, although it is thought that in trees the bacteria most usually colonise the plant through the roots. Weeping and fluxing from patches on the trunk is often the only symptom, but branch dieback may occur. Clematis slime flux is perhaps the most common and is seen in spring.
Bacterial cankerClematis slime fluxCordylineOverwintering tender plants: lifting or mulchingOverwintering tender plants: wrappingFrost damage
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