Myrtle rust threat a step closer

Fungal disease now found in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.

Fungal disease now found in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.

KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN: The Ministry of Primary Industries has again urged members of the public to keep their eyes open for the fungal disease myrtle rust, which can ravage various species of native and introduced plants in the myrtle family including pohutukawa, rata, manuka and kanuka. File picture

MYRTLE rust is edging closer to Gisborne bringing potentially significant impacts, Gisborne District Council’s environmental planning and regulations committee heard yesterday.

The fungal disease, which affects plants in the myrtacae family, including manuka and pohutukawa, was first found in the country in Kerikeri, Northland, a month ago.

It has since been found in Taranaki, Waikato and just this week in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said tests confirmed the plant disease in a 25-year-old ramarama in a private residential garden in Te Puke.

The find brought the number of cases across New Zealand to 46.

GDC acting director of environmental services and protection Lois Easton said the recent find showed the disease spread was a “fast moving space”.

“It could be a rather significant issue for us, as it is to the whole country.”

The disease affects other natives such as rata and kanuka, and introduced species eucalyptus, feijoa and bottle brush plants.

Implications can be severe, even causing the death of those plants infected.

A council report said if it spread here it could have long term repercussions for a number of “iconic native plants and the regeneration of their seedlings”.

There is the potential for adverse impacts to the local economy, particularly the burgeoning manuka honey industry, but also tourism.

While it has not yet been identified in the region there is no physical means of stopping it, as the spores are dispersed via wind currents.

Damaging to longer-lived species

Ms Easton said while the ultimate effects of the disease were unknown, evidence from overseas suggested it could be more damaging to longer-lived species, such as pohutukawa, which typically live for a few hundred years to more than a thousand.

Shorter-lived species, such as manuka with a typical lifespan of 25 years, might be able to adapt better.

The rust is an invisible microscopic spore that is easily spread over large distances by wind, insects, animals, humans and contaminated goods. It is believed to have blown over from Australia.

A national response is being lead by the Ministry for Primary Industries, Department of Conservation and regional councils.

GDC has already taken measures including putting a halt on planting ecological and amenity trees, such as pohutukawa, in parks and reserves.

However, the council report said myrtle rust was not in the Regional Pest Management Plan or budget so new funding could be required to support any monitoring or management.

Collaboration with external stakeholders DoC, the manuka honey Industry, Federated Farmers, Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, local native and nursery garden outlets, horticulture groups and Iwi was essential.

Myrtle rust generally attacks soft new growth including leaf surfaces, shoots, buds, flowers and fruit.
Symptoms to look out for are bright yellow/orange powdery patches on leaves, brown/grey rust pustules (older spores) on older lesions, and leaves that are buckled or twisted and dying off.

Reports of suspected cases are vital in helping determine where myrtle rust is in New Zealand, how far it has spread and whether eradication, containment, or even slowing the spread is feasible.

MYRTLE rust is edging closer to Gisborne bringing potentially significant impacts, Gisborne District Council’s environmental planning and regulations committee heard yesterday.

The fungal disease, which affects plants in the myrtacae family, including manuka and pohutukawa, was first found in the country in Kerikeri, Northland, a month ago.

It has since been found in Taranaki, Waikato and just this week in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said tests confirmed the plant disease in a 25-year-old ramarama in a private residential garden in Te Puke.

The find brought the number of cases across New Zealand to 46.

GDC acting director of environmental services and protection Lois Easton said the recent find showed the disease spread was a “fast moving space”.

“It could be a rather significant issue for us, as it is to the whole country.”

The disease affects other natives such as rata and kanuka, and introduced species eucalyptus, feijoa and bottle brush plants.

Implications can be severe, even causing the death of those plants infected.

A council report said if it spread here it could have long term repercussions for a number of “iconic native plants and the regeneration of their seedlings”.

There is the potential for adverse impacts to the local economy, particularly the burgeoning manuka honey industry, but also tourism.

While it has not yet been identified in the region there is no physical means of stopping it, as the spores are dispersed via wind currents.

Damaging to longer-lived species

Ms Easton said while the ultimate effects of the disease were unknown, evidence from overseas suggested it could be more damaging to longer-lived species, such as pohutukawa, which typically live for a few hundred years to more than a thousand.

Shorter-lived species, such as manuka with a typical lifespan of 25 years, might be able to adapt better.

The rust is an invisible microscopic spore that is easily spread over large distances by wind, insects, animals, humans and contaminated goods. It is believed to have blown over from Australia.

A national response is being lead by the Ministry for Primary Industries, Department of Conservation and regional councils.

GDC has already taken measures including putting a halt on planting ecological and amenity trees, such as pohutukawa, in parks and reserves.

However, the council report said myrtle rust was not in the Regional Pest Management Plan or budget so new funding could be required to support any monitoring or management.

Collaboration with external stakeholders DoC, the manuka honey Industry, Federated Farmers, Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, local native and nursery garden outlets, horticulture groups and Iwi was essential.

Myrtle rust generally attacks soft new growth including leaf surfaces, shoots, buds, flowers and fruit.
Symptoms to look out for are bright yellow/orange powdery patches on leaves, brown/grey rust pustules (older spores) on older lesions, and leaves that are buckled or twisted and dying off.

Reports of suspected cases are vital in helping determine where myrtle rust is in New Zealand, how far it has spread and whether eradication, containment, or even slowing the spread is feasible.

Anyone who suspects they may have seen myrtle rust should leave it alone, take a photo if possible and phone MPI’s exotic pest and disease hotline 0800 80 99 66.

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