Studies on Mycology and Forest Pathology in India can be dated back to 1905 when Butler first reported wilt disease in Casuarina. Before that McCarthy reported sandal spike disease in 1898. Work on Forest Mycology was started with the appointment of Dr. K.D. Bagchee in the Mycology section in 1927, which was then part of Botany Branch. Later the section was elevated to the full-fledged branch in 1950. He remained the head of this branch till his retirement in January, 1955. Abdul Hafiz Khan and Abdul Hamid Khan assisted him. The latter was appointed in 1944 and served till 1946. The branch was renamed as Forest Pathology Branch in 1957 and it had the distinction of being headed by Dr. B.K. Bakshi a renowned forest pathologist from 1955 to 1977.A strong school on the subject later developed which included P.S. Rehill, M.A. Rama Reddy and Sujan Singh who were assisted by P.C. Pandey, Balwant Singh, R.K.Tewary and S.N. Mukerji Since the inception of the this discipline, pioneering studies were carried out on many disease problems relating to seed, nurseries, plantations, natural forests and timber pathology.
Detailed studies were carried out on the diseases and fungi since its inception. Bagchee (1929) reported a new species of Cronartium from Himalayas causing stem rust of Chir pine and worked out its detailed life cycle. He also widely surveyed the Indian forests and identified their mycological and pathological problems. Dr. B.K. Bakshi joined as Research Officer in 1943 and in depth studies were carried out on the problems of heart rot in Sal, pink disease of Eucalyptus, wilt disease of Shisham, root rot in Khair and wilt disease of Casuarina equisetifolia. Bakshi and Sujan Singh (1966) published studies on rusts of important forest trees. Work was also conducted on mycorrhiza, decay resistance tests of some timber species, identification of Polyporaceae and the diseases and deterioration they cause in the forests. Diseases and insect pests of poplar were worked out by Pratap Singh and Sujan Singh (1986).
Work on seed pathology initiated in eighties included control of Fusarium semitectum, an internally seed borne fungus of Leucaena leucocephala by dipping them in 0.1 per cent solution of emisan for 15 minutes. The fungus caused seedling blight and gummosis in grown up plants. Treatment of pods of Dalbergia sissoo and the seeds of Acacia catechu, Dendrocalamus strictus, Eucalyptus sp .and Leucaena leucocephala with fungicides reduced the percentage of infection of seeds in storage. Research on the alternatives of fungicides have also been investigated in the botanics using water, alcohol and ether extracts of Ricinus communis for managing the seed- borne mycoflora of Acacia catechu. The constituents of Triphala (emblic, beleric and chebulic myrobalans) were observed to be infected with the mycotoxin producing fungi and aflatoxins were measured at levels injurious to human health.
In forest nurseries, soil borne fungi like Rhizoctonia, Fusarium and Pythium were detected as the cause of pre-emergence and post –emergence damping-off and root rot in the conifers and hardwood species. Survey of pine nurseries in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal exhibited high incidence of the disease resulting in heavy mortality of seedlings of exotic pines. Effective control of the disease was worked out through cultural practices and by the use of chemicals as prophylactants. Some of the other nursery diseases studied were Cylindrocladium leaf and twig blight of eucalypts; Bipolaris leaf blight, Melampsora rust and Rosellinia root-rot of poplars; Maravalia leaf and twig rust of shisham, and Pseudocercospora needle blight of pines. Chemical control of these nursery diseases was successfully worked out in late 60’s and early 70’s. Leaf web blight caused by Rhizoctonia solani has appeared as a highly destructive disease of several broad-leaved species particularly Acacia, Albizia and Melia azederach, in the nurseries, which caused premature defoliation to the extent of 60-100 per cent at the peak growing season.
More than 150 fungi causing diseases and decays of both hardwood and softwood species were studied and an account of some of the noteworthy diseases and decay fungi was published in prestigious journals like Nature, Mycologia, Canadian Journal of Botany, Forest Pathology and Mycological Research among others. In plantation diseases the cause of mortality and failure of Casuarina equisetifolia in coastal plantations was attributed to a wilt fungus Trichosporium vesiculosum. The mode of spread of the disease in the plantation through root contact and root grafting was established. Control of the disease was achieved through sanitation and isolation trenching. Another wilt fungus studied was Fusarium solani causing mortality in Dalbergia sissoo in plantations raised on unsuitable sites. Positive correlation was established between disease incidence and heavy soil texture with poor drainage in the areas planted. The finding helped in avoiding unsuitable sites for future sissoo planting. The cause of failure of Eucalyptus plantations in the southern stares was attributed to pink disease caused by Corticium salmonicolor. Field resistance trials conducted with 15 species and provenances revealed that E.torelliana and E.deglupta were resistant to the disease. Resistant and susceptible clones of Dalbergia sissoo against Ganoderma lucidum root rot have been identified in the field trials.