Michelle Grabowski, UMN Extension
Cool wet spring weather stimulates galls of several rust fungi (Gymnosporangium spp.) to produce bright orange gelatinous spore producing structures that readily catch a gardeners eye. Several species of Gymnosporangium rust fungi are native to Minnesota and infect eastern red cedar trees, Juniperus virginiana during part of their lifecycle and trees and shrubs from the Rosaceae family during a different part of their lifecycle. Native Gymnosporangium rusts include cedar apple rust, quince rust, hawthorn rust and juniper broom rust. Photos and descriptions of these plant diseases can be seen at the UMN Extension online plant diagnostic tool What's wrong with my plant?
A new Gymnosporangium rust has recently been found in the United States but not yet in Minnesota. Japanese apple rust is caused by Gymnosporangium yamadae. This fungus does not infect Minnesota's native red cedar trees but does infect Juniperus chinensis and J. squamata. Both of these species of juniper are sold as ornamental trees or shrubs here in Minnesota. Although Japanese apple rust is unlikely to cause any serious damage to junipers, this fungus also infects apple trees. At this time, it is unknown how the apple varieties grown in Minnesota will respond to Japanese apple rust.
To identify Japanese apple rust in juniper, look for round woody galls that are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. When wet, these galls become covered in a 1/4 inch thick layer of orange gelatinous goo. As this spore filled goo dries, it will become apparent that they arise from short orange projections, like small shelves sticking out from the side of the gall. In contrast, the native cedar apple rust galls produce orange gelatinous tentacles that swell to 1-2 inches long when wet.
If you suspect a juniper in your area has Japanese apple rust, please contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voice message at 888-545-6884. The MDA will contact you with further information in 1-2 days.