New Zealanders are being encouraged to be vigilant after the discovery of the deadly fungus myrtle rust on some pohutukawa seedlings on mainland New Zealand.
Myrtle rust is a fungal disease which can severely debilitate or even kill various species of native and introduced plants in the myrtle family, including pohutukawa, rata, manuka, gum, bottlebrush and feijoa.
Since 1990, the Project Crimson Trust has planted hundreds of thousands of pohutukawa and rata trees and played a major role in turning around the health of the species after it was discovered that pohutukawa was perilously close to extinction in parts of Northland.
Project Crimson Trustee, Ruud Kleinpaste says myrtle rust is a hideous disease and how it could impact on pohutukawa and rata in New Zealand is currently unknown. “Myrtle rust could be incredibly hard to contain as it is so easily spread by wind carrying its spores. You can never tell with myrtle rust how it’s going to behave, and I really hope that it is not going to stuff up the ecology of our native forests.”
There is no known method of controlling the disease in the wild, apart from application of fungicide in very small areas as a last resort. Even if eradication is achieved, there is an ongoing risk of reinfection from Australia.
Adds Mr Kleinpaste “It’s too soon to know what myrtle rust will do to pohutukawa and rata, so for now the Project Crimson Trust urges New Zealanders to be vigilant, and follow the advice of MPI by reporting any suspected sightings of the disease”.
Anyone believing they have seen myrtle rust on plants in New Zealand should call MPI on 0800 80 99 66. It is very important not to touch the plants or attempt to collect samples as this will spread the disease.
In particular, anyone who has purchased any plants from the myrtle family in the last month should check for physical signs and contact MPI if any are seen.