Ergot of Wheat

Claviceps purpurea

Claviceps species


Purple to black horn like bodies that replace grains in the head. Most species have bodies that are larger than the grain and protrude from the head. During flowering yellow droplets of sugary slime on the head are the first sign of the disease.

Ergot contamination in grain samples is more commonly due to Ergot of Annual Ryegrass or Darnel growing as a weed in the crop.

Species Affected:

Wheat, Annual Ryegrass, Cereal Rye, Darnel, Triticale.

Triticale and Darnel are particularly susceptible to Ergot.

Barley and Oats are moderately susceptible.


Cool wet weather around flowering favours infection.

Ergots survive in the soil for up to a year and produce spores that infect open florets.

Infection is favoured by cool wet conditions at flowering.

Spores produced in the slime droplets on the head spread to adjacent plants by raindrop splash and insects attracted to the sugar.

It is more prevalent in open flowering species like Ryegrass and other grasses. Similarly Triticale and hybrid Wheat varieties are more prone to infection than other Wheat varieties and is less common in Oats and Barley.

Life Cycle:

Origin and History:


Fairly rare in Australian grain.


Very Toxic to animals and humans.

Very low tolerance levels in grain for sale.

Management and Control:

Plant seed that is harvested from uninfected areas.

Adjust crop rotation so that Wheat follows a broad-leaved crop or pasture.

Control grass weeds in crop and in the 2 seasons before crop with herbicides or other means to prevent flowering (e.g. hay, silage, topping, heavy grazing)

Bury infected material more than 5 cm deep.

Avoid planting infected paddocks to Wheat for at least year.

Related and Similar Species:

Ergot of Rye (Claviceps species)




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