Panama disease Tropical Race 4

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PLANT PEST

Panama disease Tropical Race 4

(Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense)

Restricted distribution in Northern Territory and Queensland
(under quarantine control)

Life form: Fungus
Origin: South East Asia
Distribution:South East Asia, Middle East, southern Africa,
Australia (Northern Territory and Queensland
Features:The fungus attacks the banana's vascular system
causing wilting and death of the infected plant
Pathways: Illegal imports, equipment, soil, clothing
At risk: Cavendish, Lady Finger and Ducasse bananas


Panama disease is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense. There are several races of Panama disease many of which are present in Australia. One race, known as Tropical Race 4, infects Cavendish bananas, Australia’s most grown variety of banana, as well as most other varieties. It has been estimated that 80 per cent of global production is under threat from Tropical Race 4.

There are two important strains of Panama disease Race 4.

  • Subtropical Race 4 - usually produces symptoms in Cavendish after a period of cold stress
  • Tropical Race 4 - is a serious threat to the Australian Cavendish banana industry.

There is no known cure for Panama disease Tropical Race 4, so preventing and controlling the movement of risk material is the only way to deal with the disease. If the disease were to spread beyond its current distribution in Australia, it would devastate Australia’s banana industry.

See if you can identify the pest

Everyone needs to keep an eye out for Panama disease Tropical Race 4.

The first symptoms are usually the yellowing of lower or older leaves. This yellowing progresses towards the centre of the leaf and the leaf edges then turn brown before dying. As the lower leaves die they wilt and collapse, forming a ‘skirt’ around the plant. The younger leaves may remain green and upright. The stem’s internal tissue discolours from yellow to red, through to dark brown or black, depending on how long the plant has been infected. The fruit of an infected banana plant is not affected by the fungus, and is still safe for human consumption.

Dead plants leave behind spores that can live in soil for decades and will infect any future banana crop plantings. When the fungus blocks the water conducting tissue within the banana stem, it starves the plant of water causing it to wilt and eventually die.

The symptoms of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 may be confused with those of nutritional problems, water stress, bacterial corm rot, and other diseases, which is why proper diagnosis is important.

Internal symptoms of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 showing reddish brown discolouration of the stem (source: Jeff Daniels)
Stem of the banana tree has been cut open to expose the symptoms of Panama disease. It shows reddish brown discolouration of the stem.
A young banana plant with yellowing leaves (source: Department of Agriculture and Food – WA
A young banana plant with showing symptoms of panama disease with yellowing leaves. Only some of the leaves on the plant are showing symptoms.
External symptom of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 with yellowing leaves forming a skirt around the plant’s stem (source: Suzy Perry, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)
External symptom of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 with yellowing leaves forming a skirt around the plant’s stem as older leaves die.

Importers and travellers

Illegal importation of infected plant material poses the greatest risk for the disease to enter Australia. If you work around imported plant material, including cut flowers and nursery stock you need to look for disease symptoms.

Ensure your shoes and clothes are free of soil if you have visited agricultural areas before entering Australia. If you work on farms, tell the farm owners where you have been recently to avoid cross-contamination.

Growers and home gardeners

Keep a watch for sick banana plants in your area. Yellowed and wilting leaves, browned leaf edges, dead leaves and splitting stems are potential signs of the disease.

Ensure that you do not move soil or plant material to and from areas with banana plants.

Check what can legally come into Australia

All Australians and international tourists have a role to keep out exotic pests and diseases.

Panama disease Tropical Race 4 has a restricted distribution in Australia. We need your help to keep it this way.

Check what you can and cannot bring into Australia, whether you are a:

One banana, two banana, three banana, four.

Early detection and reporting of symptoms are the key elements in controlling the disease. If you love Australian bananas, don’t take a risk and report.

Import restrictions and biosecurity measures

Some items, by law, are subject to certain import conditions to be allowed into Australia. Please check the Biosecurity Import Condition System (BICON).

Be aware of any Panama disease Tropical Race 4 biosecurity measures that may be in place for incoming goods. Industry advice notices are reviewed regularly and could change.

Secure any suspect specimens

Containment is critical.

If you suspect a banana plant has Panama disease Tropical Race 4, do not remove, cut or destroy the affected plant as this may increase the risk of spreading the disease.

Instead, record the plant’s location, take photographs of symptoms for identification of the disease, and report the find as soon as possible.

Report detections of exotic pests

Any detections of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 must be reported to the authorities.

Import community

If you receive or work around goods imported from overseas, including mail, you need to be vigilant to Panama disease Tropical Race 4 and other exotic pests. If you see an unusual pest, secure the goods to limit the movement of the pest and immediately report it to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s SEE. SECURE. REPORT. Hotline on 1800 798 636 or by using the online form.

Growers and home gardeners

If you see a banana plant with symptoms of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 or anything unusual, report it to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. This will put you in touch with the department of primary industries or agriculture in your state or territory.

When reporting your concern, you will be given advice on handling the specimen and what to do next until an officer can investigate.

Additional information