Is that Common or Southern Rust Showing up in Iowa Fields?

July 22, 2008
ICM News

By Alison Robertson, Department of Plant Pathology

Is that common or southern rust showing up in Iowa fields?  Chances are it is common rust. It has probably been too cool and wet so far this growing season to see southern rust. Symptoms of the two rusts are very similar but there are subtle differences.

Location of pustules. Pustules of common rust (Figure 1) can be found on both the upper and lower leaf surfaces, compared with southern rust when pustules are usually only found on the upper leaf surface (Figure 2 and 3). Care should be taken though when using this characteristic for diagnosis since early symptoms of common rust may appear to be only sporulating on the upper leaf surface. 

Color of pustules. Common rust pustules are brick red in color; southern rust pustules are more orange brown in color (Figure 4).  Admittedly this can be difficult to distinguish unless you are familiar with the two color types.

Shape of pustules. Common rust pustules tend to be more elongated than the pustules of southern rust which are usually more round. In addition, common rust pustules are usually sparsely scattered over the leaf surface, while southern rust pustules tend to be more densely clustered.

Favorable conditions. Cool (61 to 77 degree Fahrenheit), wet conditions favor common rust. In Iowa we usually start to see common rust showing up on corn towards the end of June. Then as we really get into summer (hotter than 80 degrees Fahrenheit), disease development slows down. Southern rust is favored by warm (77 to 82 degree Fahrenheit), humid conditions and so it is usually mid- to late-August before we see southern rust in the state.   

Management. Foliar fungicides are effective against both common and southern rust, however it is rare for common rust disease severity to be high enough and southern rust to occur early enough in the growing season in Iowa to warrant an application. 

Additional information regarding rust diseases of corn is available in a publication from the University of Nebraska, Rust Diseases of Corn in Nebraska.

Figure 1. Elongate, brick red pustules of common rust


Figure 2.  Under surface of a corn leaf infected with southern rust – note the absence of pustules.


Figure 3.  Circular, orange-brown pustules of southern rust on the upper leaf surface.


Figure 4.  Comparison of common rust (right) and southern rust pustules (left) on a corn leaf.


Alison Robertson is an assistant professor of plant pathology with research and extension responsibilities in field crop diseases.


Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Integrated Crop Management News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on July 22, 2008. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.


Alison Robertson Professor of Plant Pathology and Microbiology

Dr. Alison Robertson is a professor of plant pathology and microbiology. She provides extension education on the diagnosis and management of corn and soybean diseases. Her research interests include Pythium seedling disease of corn and soybean and Goss's wilt. Dr. Robertson received her bach...