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Ustilago maydis (maize smut)

Maize smut is an economically important fungus which infects the stems, leaves and flowers of sweetcorn and may cause severe crop losses.
 Ustilago maydis on sweetcorn

Ustilago maydis on sweetcorn (Photo: Geoffrey Kibby)

Species information

Common name: 

corn/maize smut, boil/blister smut of corn

Conservation status: 

The smut is generally common throughout its range and is also an economically important pathogen, sometimes causing severe crop losses. It is not considered of conservation concern.

Habitat: 

Parasitic on maize (Zea mays) and related species, causing markedly swollen tissue in the flowering parts, stems and leaves.

Key Uses: 

Food, herbal medicine.

Known hazards: 

See below.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: 
Fungi
Phylum: 
Basidiomycota
Order: 
Ustilaginales
Family: 
Ustilaginaceae
Genus: Ustilago

About this species

Ustilago maydis (previously known as U. zeae) is native to Mexico, but is now distributed almost worldwide wherever the host is cultivated. It was first described in 1815 by de Candolle from France, as Uredo maydis. The economic importance of this species has led to an extensive literature on its biology, taxonomy, and uses. It is an important crop pathogen and a major quarantine pest. Host infection occurs through young tissue above ground, often via wounds, affecting all plant parts and often leading to large, distinctive and conspicuous galls of the host.

Control measures mainly involve the use of resistant host varieties and chemical seed treatments. However, the swollen host tissue caused by this smut has long been an important food item, known as huitlacoche in Central America, and is becoming increasingly so in North America. Corn smut is also an important study organism which has been extensively used in genetic research and subjected to detailed study.

Genus: 
Ustilago

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