Goodbye gin and tonics? Invasive plant disease threatens juniper berries used to make gin

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Credit: Michelle Arnold / EyeEm/EyeEm

The gin industry, which is worth £3.2bn to the UK economy, has the potential to be devastated by an invasive plant disease that is posing a threat to one of the basic ingredients that gives gin its distinctive flavor.

A pathogen called phytophthora austrocedri is spreading through juniper trees in Scotland, which produces 70% the UK’s gin …. The warning comes from none other [than] experts at the Plant Health Center, including …. Professor Fiona Burnett, from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

The phytophthora austrocedri pathogen entered Britain through the plant trade and may have got into juniper woodlands through well-intentioned planting schemes. It lives in the soil and spreads in both soil and water, infecting juniper roots and killing large numbers of juniper trees especially on wet sites.

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Although gin can be produced from spirits derived from a wide choice of grains, or even potatoes, it relies on juniper berries to give it its traditional, distinctive flavor.

Luckily for gin drinkers, researchers in Scotland have found that some junipers are resistant to P austrocedri and it is hoped that natural regeneration will allow juniper populations to recover over time.

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