Eastern Bay still myrtle rust-free


AN educational website designed to help people identify and report myrtle rust infestation has been launched to curtail the fungus that attacks native trees.

Biosecurity New Zealand and the Department of Conservation launched the online training programme to help New Zealanders identify suspected myrtle rust in their backyards.

In spite of 174 cases of myrtle rust reported across the Bay of Plenty since it was discovered in the country in May of 2017, the Eastern Bay has yet to have a confirmed case. The nearest infestations were found at Rotorua (13 cases) and Te Puke (44 cases).

The website, at http://www.myrtlerust.org.nz, is a central place to house resources and information.

Biosecurity New Zealand has commissioned a comprehensive $3.7 million research programme made up of more than 20 specific projects to better understand myrtle rust.

They said myrtle rust was likely to be more active during warmer weather with late summer and autumn likely to be the worst time for infection and spore risk.

The Government is set to pump another $13.75 million into joint research to combat the spread of myrtle rust and kauri dieback in the next three years.

New Zealand’s native myrtle plants including pohutukawa, rata, manuka, kanuka and ramarama are vulnerable to the disease.

The fungus, mainly spread by wind, generally infects shoots, buds, and young leaves of myrtle plants.

Infected plants show typical symptoms including bright yellow powdery spots on the underside of leaves but can also show other symptoms such as grey powdery spots during cooler months.

The plant fungus can be hard to identify without training and can look different during seasonal changes. The new online training modules provide resources to better understand the fungus and its symptoms.

Biosecurity New Zealand manager for recovery and pest management John Sanson said keeping tabs on the fungus’ growth patterns was an important aspect to eradicating it.

“We are trying to understand the spread of the disease so are asking staff and the public to keep an eye out for myrtle rust over the autumn months,” he said.

DoC project manager for myrtle rust Fiona Thomson said the website was an excellent tool for the public to learn what myrtle plants look like, how to spot myrtle rust and what to do when infected plants were found.

“The more eyes looking out for myrtle rust, the better we can monitor this disease and protect our precious myrtles,” she said.

If myrtle rust is found, especially in areas where it has not yet been reported, do not touch the plant or collect samples. Take pictures and report it to Biosecurity New Zealand Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 809 966.