Hi, nice to meet you. I am Botrytis cinerea, better known as gray mold. If you’ve seen me before, I’m sure you’ll agree that’s the perfect name because, well, I’m gray mold. The gray color is mostly in my spores. I do about 60,000 at a time. (A Penn State professor counted them: bit.ly/3HGbSAU). You know what they say, it saves time making a big batch when cooking something.
I really move, thanks to these little light spores that move with the slightest breath of air. In cloudy weather, I can travel hundreds of kilometers like that. Unfortunately, on sunny days, I don’t get that far, as the sun’s UV rays eventually kill my spores.
Officially, I was found on 1,458 plants. Some of my favorite plants are flowers with lots of tender petals, such as begonia, cyclamen, geranium, gerbera, pink pansy, and strawberry. The petals turn brown and fall off after I’m done with them.
One of my favorite sayings is “Eat the dessert first. You deserve it.” Leaves are boring, so I like to start by first devouring a pansy petal, then, after perking up, move on to the leaf.
If this digested petal rests on a leaf, as usual, I don’t even have to wait for a breeze, I just stretch my “legs” and the leaf is within reach. What if I leave light brown spots on the pansy leaves? I rarely eat the whole leaf.
Juicy berries, like those from the rose family, are so delicious. You can find me and my siblings Botrytis caroliniana, Botrytis fragariae, Botrytis Mali and Botrytis pseudocinerea on strawberries, raspberries or blackberries.
Did you know that I am mentioned in a famous poem? It’s called “Blackberry Picking”. Seamus Heaney wrote it in 1966 and it won a Nobel Prize. He reproached me for having rotted his blackberries: “We found a furry, rat-gray mushroom, cluttering our cache.” Really, it was his fault for not putting them in the fridge.
I am also famous for another reason. I can withstand attacks from up to seven different fungicides. No other phytopathogen, not even powdery mildew, can claim this feat. If you see me more on strawberries than before, now you know why.
You can also find me in greenhouses, especially in the spring when the air becomes humid if there is no fan running. Some of my favorite greenhouse plants, besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, are lettuce and, yes, cannabis.
Two plants not on the 1,458 list are nemesia and diascia, cool-season annuals. I tried attacking the base of the stem, where it stays moist, and found that I could cause a nice brown canker, just like on greenhouse tomato or poinsettia stems.
I’m probably not making a very good impression telling you all the gory details of my life cycle. But I saved one of the best for last. Besides gray mold, I have a much fancier name: noble rot.
That’s right. I am responsible for some delicious dessert wines, such as Tokaj, Sauternes and Spätlese. I guess I should give the winemakers some credit for realizing that just because I’m growing on the skin of the grape doesn’t mean the fruit can’t be used to make wine (bit.ly/3HJnHqc).
As I grow, the skin shrinks and the fruit begins to dry out, as if it is going to turn into a raisin. This means that the sugars are so concentrated that there are sugars left in the wine after fermentation.
I really shouldn’t tell you all my secrets, but I don’t like dry weather, dry leaves or dry conditions. After all, I am a mold.
Some gardening practices are dangerous to my health. Deadheading doesn’t just help plants; it hurts me to remove the dead flowers and petals that I crave. Brushing or blowing geranium leaf petals stops me in my tracks. In Charleston County, gardeners can put flowers or buds with gray mold directly into yard waste bags, so my spores don’t escape.
Planting my favorite plants in full sun or moving potted plants to where they get the most sun is sure to put me off.
Keep the leaves dry by watering the soil, not the plant.
One last fun fact: Spring is my favorite season, so hopefully we’ll see each other again soon.