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Publication #SS-AGR-206

Sugarcane Red Rot Disease1

R. N. Raid and P. Rott2

Red rot is one of the oldest known diseases of sugarcane. It occurs in most sugarcane-growing countries and, in India, where it causes important yield losses, it is considered a disease of major importance (Singh and Sunita Lal 2000). Although it continues to be a threat in certain other subtropical regions, it is presently of little concern to the Florida sugarcane grower.


Red rot occurs in various parts of the sugarcane plant but it is usually considered a stalk and a seed piece disease. Symptoms of red rot are highly variable depending upon the susceptibility of the sugarcane variety and the environment. Symptoms may not be readily apparent in the field, especially in the early stages of the disease. In the later stages of the disease, red rot may cause standing cane to "break down" (Figure 1).

Figure 1. 

Sugarcane lodging caused by red rot.


Richard Raid, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Diagnostic symptoms can best be observed by splitting the stalk lengthwise. The infected tissues have a dull red color interrupted by occasional whitish patches across the stalk (Figure 2). These white patches are specific to the disease and are of significance in distinguishing red rot from other stalk rots. Reddened vascular bundles may also pass through to healthy tissues. In susceptible varieties, the red color may be seen throughout the length of the stalk, and sometimes also with some gray color. The infection is largely confined to the internodes in resistant varieties. Red rot infected sugarcane may be distinguished from pineapple disease, another sugarcane disease causing internal stalk reddening by its rather sour odor. By contrast, sugarcane infected with pineapple disease emits a sweet scent, smelling like ripened pineapples.

Figure 2. 

Dull red color of stalk tissue affected by red rot.


Richard Raid, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

On the leaves, the pathogen may produce elongated red lesions on the midribs (Figure 3), reddish patches on the leaf sheaths, and, infrequently, small dark spots on the leaf blades. The lesions may eventually develop a straw color in the center.

In seed pieces, the entire seed piece may become rotted and the internal tissues exhibit various shades of red, brown or gray.

Figure 3. 

Elongated red lesion on the sugarcane leaf midrib caused by red rot.


Philippe Rott, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Causal Agent

Red rot disease is caused by the fungus Glomerella tucumanensis. An older name, Colletotrichum falcatum, is still preferred by some pathologists. The red rot fungus can be readily isolated from infected tissues. The pathogen produces specialized structures known as acervuli, which support profuse sporulation. Spores (conidia) are hyaline (clear), oblong, single-celled, and produced in a slimy matrix. They rely heavily on water, particularly rainfall, for dissemination. At least six races of the red rot pathogen have been identified (Bharti et al. 2014; Saksena et al., 2013). Fungal growth is affected by temperature, pH, nutrition and environmental conditions.

Spread of the Disease

Midrib lesions are probably the major source of inoculum during the growing season. Diseased stalks generate a great deal of inoculum. Dissemination of the inoculum takes place by wind, rain, heavy dews, and irrigation water. Infected plant material can readily spread or cause secondary infections. Crop debris or stubble may also provide inoculum to infect a new crop. Although the fungus is not a true soil-borne organism, spores washed into the soil may produce infection in planted seed pieces. Hosts other than sugarcane are not considered important inoculum sources.

Climatic factors affect both the spread and severity of red rot. In newly-planted sugarcane, the disease is favored by excessive soil moisture, drought conditions, and low temperatures.

Prevention and Control

The use of resistant sugarcane varieties is the most effective method of prevention and control. The factors determining resistance to red rot are not fully understood. There are two kinds of resistance: (1) morphological, which may prevent or retard the infection process, and (2) physiological, in which the living cells of the plant suppress or prevent pathogen growth. Physiological resistance is considered to be of greater importance.

The incidence of red rot can be reduced through good cultural practices, such as clearing fields of excessive trash and efficient drainage. Agronomic practices that hasten germination are important in reducing seed rotting and obtaining good stands. The avoidance of planting susceptible cultivars during excessively cool and wet weather has been effective in several countries. Regular roguing of diseased plants, burning of trash, plowing out badly affected fields, maintenance of proper soil moisture, and prompt harvesting of infected or susceptible crops are other management practices recommended for red rot control.

Foliar fungicides have not been effective in the control of red rot. However, better crop stands have been achieved from enhanced germination obtained by treating seed pieces with a fungicide before planting. This treatment reduces the incidence of red rot infection in the treated seed pieces.

Heat treating of seed cane has also been effective in controlling seed piece infection of red rot, but is impractical in most situations. In recent years, antagonistic biological control agents, such as Trichoderma and Pseudomonas species, have been used to successfully reduce losses due to red rot (Singh et al. 2008; Viswanathan and Samiyappan 2002). For this reason, their use is expanding in regions where cultivar resistance has fallen short with respect to management.


Bharti, Y.P., A. Kumar, D.D.K. Sharma, S.K. Singh, and D.N. Shukla. 2014. “Morphological, physiological and pathological variations among isolates of Colletotrichum falcatum that cause red rot of sugarcane.” African Journal of Microbiology Research 8(10): 1040-49.

Saksena, P., S.K. Vishwakarma, A.K. Tiwari, A. Singh, and A. Kumar. 2013. “Pathological and molecular variation in Colletotrichum falcatum Went isolates causing red rot of sugarcane in the Northwest zone of India.” Journal of Plant Protection Research 53(1): 37-41.

Singh, R.P., and Sunita Lal. 2000. “Red rot”. In A guide to sugarcane diseases, edited by Philippe Rott, Roger A. Bailey, Jack C. Comstock, Barry J. Croft, and A. Salem Saumtally, 153-58. Montpellier, France: CIRAD/ISSCT, La Librairie du Cirad.

Singh, V., S.N. Srivastava, R. J. Lal, S.K. Awasthi, and B.B. Joshi. 2008. “Biological control of red rot disease of sugarcane through Trichoderma harzianum and Trichoderma viride." Indian Phytopathology 61(4): 486-93.

Viswanathan, R., and R. Samiyappan. 2002. “Induced systemic resistance by fluorescent pseudomonads against red rot disease of sugarcane caused by Colletotrichum falcatum.” Crop Protection 21(1): 1-10.



This document is SS-AGR-206, one of a series of the Agronomy Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date January 1991. Revised January 2006 and November 2015. Visit the EDIS website at This publication is also a part of the Florida Sugarcane Handbook, an electronic publication of the Agronomy Department. For more information, contact the editor of the Sugarcane Handbook, Handbook, H. S. Sandhu (


R. N. Raid, professor; and P. Rott, professor, Everglades Research and Education Center; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.