The fungus originates from western North America on related species, but proved highly infectious to the European Antirrhinum majus when accidentally introduced to the UK and mainland Europe in the last century. It releases dark brown spores from the pustules on the lower leaf surface and these are spread by the wind to initiate new infections on leaves.
The rust fungi are described as biotrophs; that is, they grow within the living tissues of the plant and extract nutrients from the cells over an extended period. However, although they do not kill tissues rapidly, heavy attacks by rusts can cause tissues to collapse and die prematurely and this is the case for antirrhinum leaves. This leads to a great loss of vigour and an unsightly plant.
Occasionally, overwintering resting spores are produced but these are relatively unimportant and it principally survives from one year to the next on infected plants. Under favourable, wet conditions the disease can build up rapidly and is often unnoticed in the early stages because it usually starts on the lower leaves. Like many rusts, the full life cycle requires alternation between two unrelated plant hosts, but in Europe only the stages on antirrhinums occur.
Antirrhinums may also be affected by powdery mildew and by root and foot rots, particularly on wet soils, but these problems are of relatively minor importance compared with rust.