Diagnosing abiotic leaf spots in cereals

Scattered leaf spots that have an abiotic cause such as droplet freeze damage, spray solvents or topdressed fertiliser burn.

Pale leaf blotches at different sites on successive leaves.
Leaf kinking and tip death may be mistaken as nutrient deficiency
Leaf sheath and associated stem may be affected.
Small interveinal leaf spots on some leaves.
Abiotic leaf lesion

What to look for


  • Plants with white lesions with a rim that may initially be pale then go brown that re uniformly distributed or concentrated in frost-prone areas.


  • White lesions that are often drop-shaped or span the width of the leaf causing the leaf to kink, or leaf tips to shrivel.
  • As the plant grows, lesion position on successive leaves varies reflecting a single occurrence.
  • Some leaf sheaths and associated stems areas may be shrivelled or discoloured.
  • Some leaves that were emerged at the freeze event can have numerous small interveinal spots.
  • Later emerging leaves are unaffected.

What else could it be

Condition Similarities Differences
Diagnosing contact herbicide damage in cereals Similar lesions on the leaf More extensive coverage
Nutrient deficiency
Similar leaf spots Symptoms progress as the plant grows

Where did it come from?

  • A common cause is frozen water droplets
  • Differing lesion shape is caused by individual droplets on leaf surface, under a leaf bend, or in the leaf axil.
  • Freeze damage in the axil can damage the enclosing leaf sheath, stem and up to 3 leaves at various stages of emergence.
  • As the leaves develop further lesions are found further up later developing leaves.

Where to go for expert help


Page last updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 3:06pm