Stigmina Needle Cast

Need to know: 

  • Symptoms progress over the course of 3 years, leading to needle discoloration and severe foliage thinning. 
  • The year after initial infection, new spores are produced, leading to spread of spores and infection. 
  • Preventative measures include avoiding planting susceptible spruce trees and removing infected spruce trees. 
  • Fungicides labeled for needle diseases of spruce trees may be used in states where registered.  


Stigmina needle cast is a fungal disease of spruce trees caused by the pathogen Stigmina lautii.  Stigmina needle cast is often mistaken for Rhizosphaera needle cast. Microscopic observation is required to distinguish both diseases from each other. Norway, black, blue, and white spruce are hosts to this pathogen. 

Symptoms of stigmina needle cast

Browning of the needles
Browning on spruce needles

Symptoms progress over the course of 3 years, leading to needle discoloration and severe thinning of foliage on the lower two-thirds of trees. By late summer approximately one year after initial infection, entire needles or parts of infected needles appear darker and range from yellow to tan to brown or purple in coloration. White specks of wax from stomatal pits may be visible on top of the sporodochia at this stage. Late in the second season or at the start of the third season sporodochia produce spores, resulting in the appearance of irregular, fuzzy black lines along both sides of needles. Infected needles typically fall from trees by the end of the third summer after infection, but may also fall earlier during the second season. Young and old needles are equally susceptible, but due to tree growth patterns new needles appear green and healthy while older needles will show more advanced stages of symptoms.

Signs of stigmina needle cast

The first indications of disease appear as tiny black spots (sporodochia) on stomatal pits along with faint yellow bands around the needles. This replaces the white wax normally present. 

Disease cycle of stigmina needle cast

Early in the spring following initial infection, new spores are produced. The most abundant spread of spores and infection within the canopy occurs in the first two months after budbreak, but spore production and infection can occur as long as temperatures are above 50 °F. Immature sporodochia, which are fungal fruiting bodies, develop on needles by late spring and overwinter. In the following growing season, sporodochia produce more spores and continue the disease cycle.

Needles with signs (evidence) of the pathogen
Needles with signs (evidence) of the pathogen

Type of sample needed for diagnosis and confirmation

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic can help you to investigate and confirm if your plant has this disease. Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on collecting and packing samples. Contact information for each states diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If your sample is from outside of Iowa please do not submit it to the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic without contacting us.

Management of stigmina needle cast

In areas where stigmina needle cast is prevalent, the most effective management tactic is tree selection. Avoid planting susceptible spruce trees. Remove infected spruce trees means of preventing stigmina needle cast. Use of fungicides is possible, but may only be sensible for larger-scale growers such as nurseries and Christmas tree farms. In this case, there are two options: (1) spray only during the first two months after bud-break to save only the youngest, most visible needles for aesthetic purposes, or (2) spray season-long to prevent infections entirely until the diseased needles fall off. In both cases, sprays must occur yearly.

Fruiting Bodies (sporodochia)- signs of the fungal pathogen
Fruiting Bodies (sporodochia)- signs of the fungal pathogen

No fungicides are currently labeled in the United States specifically for stigmina needle cast, however, fungicides labeled for needle diseases of spruce trees may be used in the state where they are registered. Always read and follow the pesticide label according to manufacturer instructions.

Labeled fungicides include products containing the active ingredients azoxystrobin, chlorothalonil, copper hydroxide, copper salts of fatty and resin acids, copper sulfate, mancozeb, mono- and di-potassium salts of phosphoric acid, pyraclostrobin, sulfur, and thiophanate-methyl.

Fungicide applications may be avoided by following good Integrated Pest Management practices like those listed in this encyclopedia article. Often, the only preventative application is effective to manage plant diseases. If the problem requires a fungicide, state law requires the user to read and follow all labels accordingly. For more information, read Proper fungicide use.

By Hayley Nelson (former ISU Plant Pathology Graduate student), Ed Zaworski, and Lina Rodriguez Salamanca

Last reviewed:
April 2022

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on December 5, 2017. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.