How to Manage Pests

Pests in Gardens and Landscapes

Head smut of corn—Sphacelotheca reiliana

Head smut is characterized by large smut galls that replace ears or tassels. The galls are first covered by fragile, creamy white membranes that eventually rupture to release masses of dark brown spores. Within the masses of spores are more or less intact, threadlike strands of vascular bundles, giving the spore masses a stringy appearance.


Head smut may be confused with common smut. However, the vascular bundles within the galls of head smut readily differentiate head smut from common smut. In head smut, leaflike proliferations often occur in tassels and partially smutted ears.


Spores from the head smut fungus survive in the soil for long periods. The fungus attacks seedlings and becomes systemic, invading undifferentiated floral tissues. Infection level is related to the concentration of spores in the soil. Resistant varieties may be available.

Abnormal leafy tassels of head smut
Abnormal leafy tassels of head smut
Galling on corn ears
Galling on corn ears

Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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