New Zealanders are being encouraged to support Project Crimson as the charitable trust investigates ways to respond to the discovery of the deadly fungus myrtle rust on pohutukawa in 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 and rata and has been identified in 32 locations in Northland, Taranaki and Waikato.

For the first time in Project Crimson’s 27 year history, the Trust has temporarily halted the planting and distributing of any pohutukawa or rata trees and is asking New Zealanders to follow their lead. Says Project Crimson Trustee, Dr Gordon Hosking “We are asking Kiwis to help by not planting pohutukawa or rata trees for the remainder of the 2017 planting season (this varies by region but is typically until mid-Spring). Because myrtle rust becomes dormant over winter infected plants may not show symptoms until spring so this gives us more time to understand the impact myrtle rust is going to have on pohutukawa and rata, and also prevent people from unwittingly spreading this serious fungal disease further.”

Project Crimson has planted hundreds of thousands of pohutukawa and rata trees since it was established in 1990 and has 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. Myrtle rust is the most critical threat to pohutukawa and rata Project Crimson has seen since then.

“As the organisation that mobilised and supported communities to reverse the decline of pohutukawa, we see ourselves as guardians of these special trees. We have a number of initiatives in train to assist in the response to myrtle rust, including commissioning research
into the likely extent of damage to pohutukawa and rata by myrtle rust, and into varieties in the existing population that may be resistant to it; and helping New Zealanders to regularly check pohutukawa and rata in their neighbourhood or on their land as a form of citizen
science, by providing guidance on how to do this. What we don’t have though is a huge amount of financial resource to undertake this. We’re calling to corporates, and concerned Kiwis to help us fund this appeal.”

A Givealittle page has been set up to help support Project Crimson’s efforts to undertake their response to myrtle rust and fund research and monitoring tools.

Project Crimson urges New Zealanders to plant other native trees this year and are reminding people that the halt on planting pohutukawa and rata is temporary. “We urge Kiwis to remain committed to planting natives this year, but simply to avoid pohutukawa or rata to give us some time to understand this disease, we really hope to see New Zealanders back out planting pohutukawa next year. With a warming climate and our native birds in decline there has never been a more important time for us to be planting native trees. Please keep planting as many other native trees as you can this year, we just ask you to avoid pohutukawa and rata for the next few months so we can try to protect them for future generations” says Dr Hosking.
While Project Crimson is focused on pohutukawa and rata, the Trust’s work also extends to much larger native planting projects like Trees That Count and Treemendous, and there is no change to any of the Trust’s projects except to temporarily stop pohutukawa and rata, but
to carry on planting other native trees. 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. MPI’s website also provides useful information for people planting other myrtle-susceptible species, and measures people should take to reduce the