The Irish Potato Famine

by Dakota Jones, Sustainable Plant Systems major

Potato blight greatly affected Europe in the 1840’s. The disease caused the loss of potato crops and over 1 million people to die in Ireland due to starvation, and a million more to leave Ireland.

The reason why this was such a devastating disease for the people of Ireland is their dependency on potatoes as a nation. The potatoes the Irish planted were susceptible to the disease, and when the pathogen was introduced it rapidly spread. The weather conditions were perfect for the disease to spread, causing destruction of hundreds of acres of potato fields

Ships from the United States are supposedly the cause of the introduction of the pathogen Phytophthora infestans to Ireland. This pathogen did not only affect Ireland, but affected central Europe; Belgium, The Netherlands, France, and England. The fungus-like organism would enter the plant, fermenting and releasing a stinky stench until they turned black.

This was the first time anyone in Ireland had seen anything like this, and were first thought to be edible. But a few days later they would shrivel and rot.The people of Ireland though this was the cause of the new locomotive trains, and vapor from volcanoes.  This was also the beginning of the study of plant diseases, or plant pathology.


“Great Famine.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

“Plant Disease: A Threat to Global Food Security.” Plant Disease: A Threat to Global Food Security | Annual Review of Phytopathology. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

“The History Place – Irish Potato Famine: The Blight Begins.” The History Place – Irish Potato Famine: The Blight Begins. N.p., 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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