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Invasive myrtle rust disease discovered on mainland NZ

Published: 11 May 2017

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has confirmed the presence of the myrtle rust plant disease on mainland New Zealand for first time, in Kerikeri.

MPI and Auckland Council are asking Aucklanders to keep their eyes peeled for this invasive fungus and to report it immediately if spotted.

Councillor Penny Hulse, Chair of council’s Environment and Community Committee says the find is extremely worrying and vigilance is needed.

“It’s very early days and we know that MPI are doing everything in their power to prevent the spread of this disease. Council’s biosecurity staff are standing by to assist MPI if needed.

"In the meantime we can all add to the effort by keeping myrtle rust top of mind when we are outdoors over the coming weeks and months. If you think you’ve seen it in Auckland, please call MPI straight away.”

What is myrtle rust disease?

Myrtle leaf rust is a serious fungal disease that attacks members of the myrtle family of plants.

It could have a serious impact on our native pohutukawa, manuka, kanuka and rata as well as feijoa and eucalypts, damaging or even killing them.  Myrtle rust spores are microscopic and can easily spread across large distances by wind, or via insects, birds, people, or machinery.

Myrtle rust discovered on Mainland New Zealand 3
Picture/Ministry for Primary Industries

What does it look like?

You’re most likely to spot myrtle rust on young, soft, actively growing leaves, shoot tips and young stems, as well as flowers and fruit.

Initial symptoms are powdery, bright yellow or orange-yellow spots, or brown-grey rust pustules in the case of older infections. The rust can appear red depending on the types of spores being produced.

The fungus often causes leaves to buckle or twist and die off.

What should I do if I spot it?

Report it immediately to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) on 0800 80 99 66.

Do not touch the fungus or try and take samples as this will increase the risk of it spreading. Note down its location and take photos if possible.

Visit the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) for more information. 

Myrtle rust discovered on Mainland New Zealand 2
Picture / Ministry for Primary Industries

What's being done to safeguard against the disease? 

As part of contingency planning following the finding in Kerikeri, the Department of Conservation (DoC) has asked Auckland Council to support their nationwide collection of seed from native Myrtaceae, the family of native trees targeted by the Myrtle Rust disease.

"This is purely a precautionary exercise to secure a supply of unaffected seeds in the event that the disease spreads," says Rachel Kelleher, Biodiversity Manager, Auckland Council.

"DoC is collecting seed from DoC-administered conservation land and Auckland Council is picking up this work for Council owned land.

"Auckland Council is also developing a plan to collect seed from additional sites that are regionally important. Staff from Biodiversity, Biosecurity, Regional Parks and Botanic Gardens teams are assisting with this work.”

 

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