Distorted growth in top half of Oregon Sugar Pod II plants

Asked June 5, 2020, 6:59 PM EDT

What is causing the distorted growth on these pea plants? They were planted in mid March in a new raised bed, where Roma tomatoes, spinach, and “salad bowl” lettuce are currently thriving! There is no evidence of insect activity, and the first 12-18 inches or so of growth looks healthy and normal. The upper growth (18-36 inches) is curled and distorted, blossoms do form but are twisted and fail to open normally, and only a few small distorted pods have appeared. Is this a virus? Fungal disease? I have grown this variety of peas for years with great success, both in New England and most recently in Oregon. Shall I pull them up and try again? The seeds are Burpee Organic, and have done very well in the past. HELP!!

Washington County Oregon

6 Responses

Thank you for the images.

The plants look like they have been damaged by herbicides (weed killer). More than likely, the damage was inadvertent and caused by drift when the herbicide was sprayed.

Thanks so much for your prompt response. However, I am still mystified. No other plants in the raised bed, or for that matter, anywhere on my land show such symptoms. Yes, there is a farm across the road (fescue), but I have not noticed any signs of spraying this spring. Although these are the only pea plants in the immediate area, there is vetch and clover on my land, both of which look fine and healthy. Would an herbicide be so specific that it would affect peas but no other legumes, especially “weed” types? Could this be a virus? Could the soil in the raised bed be contaminated with something that only affects legumes? Any additional thoughts you may have will be greatly appreciated!

Symptoms from herbicides vary according to the product. A grass grower would use a broad-leaf herbicide to kill weeds in his/her crop.

Movement of herbicide drift acts similar to when one spills water at the top of a hill/slope. The air (water) flows in a series of rivulets, thus it can affect only a few plants rather than many. Another factor in herbicide damage is the degree of tolerance/resistance the crop has.

If the plant survives, still another clue pointing to herbicide damage is that the plant will grow out of the damage; new growth will be normal.

That's in stark contrast to a virused plant which will continue to produce damaged growth; it won't return to normal. Agricultural fields may have a cluster of virus-affected vegetables whereas home garden typically have just a single affected plant in the crop.

The bottom line:
If you are uncomfortable keeping these several damaged plants, remove them to gain peace of mind

Thanks again so much for your advice! – Sadly, the new growth continues to be deformed. Just a quick follow-up… If a virus infects an already established plant and causes subsequent deformed growth, is that now a systemic problem? I am tempted to experiment by cutting them back to healthy growth just to see if any new growth would be normal. Hmmmm…. Should I refrain from re-planting Oregon Sugar Pod II in this raised bed for a season or two? Could the bed be infected? I really appreciate your advice and insights!

Whenever virus affects a plant, be that a very young seedling or older plant. the infection is systemic -- i.e.: throughout the plant.

If an herbicide-affected plant survives, growth will eventually return to normal.

But then the client typically asks if the fruit that forms is safe to eat. Because that question hasn't been researched, and to err on the side of safety, you'll be told that no one knows.

Long ago, a client decided to cut off the herbicide damage in hopes of growth returning to normal. She never reported back.

You can plant peas in the same bed next season because neither virus nor herbicide (via drift) are in the soil. But there is the value of rotating crops to avoid potential build-up of soil-borne disease.

I really appreciate your advice and insights! - I cut back the distorted growth, but the new growth since then has been sparse and again a bit distorted, so probably this is some kind of virus. I have now pulled all the plants (about two dozen plants) and replanted (only 12 seeds!) just to see what will happen. Although it is a bit late for peas, I have had good luck with this variety (Oregon Sugar Pod II) throughout the summer months in past years, so I think it's worth a shot... I'll be curious to see what will happen.
Thanks again! -