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Vigilance the key to preventing myrtle rust

SINCE myrtle rust was first discovered in Gisborne on a ramarama hedge at two properties in Kaiti late last year, there have not been any major reports of it infecting trees in Gisborne.

This is unlikely to mean myrtle rust has gone, so does it mean people are not keeping an eye out for it?

Myrtle rust is a serious fungal disease that affects plants in the myrtle family.

This includes New Zealand’s native pohutukawa, manuka, rata, makahikatoa, rohutu, swamp maire, and exotics like bottle brushes, eucalyptus trees, guava, lilly pilly (monkey apple) willow myrtle and feijoa.

Myrtle rust has been found throughout the North Island and in upper areas of the South Island.

Graeme Atkins, who lives in Tikapa near Ruatoria, has been keeping an eye out for the invasive disease and has been finding myrtle rust on ramarama from Gisborne to Opotiki and around the East Cape.

He has also found myrtle rust on climbing rata vines at 300 metres in the middle of nowhere inside the Raukumara ranges.

A map on this site https://tinyurl.com/jpazuv4w shows where the infection has been identified in Aotearoa.

The map shows cases of myrtle rust have been found on the East Coast, many being inside the Raukumara ranges and near the East Cape.

Myrtle rust is carried by the wind and can be spread by insects or people moving infected plant material or on machinery.

Ministry for Primary Industries says if people suspect they have found myrtle rust they are advised not to touch it or try to collect samples as this may increase the spread of the disease.

They should photograph it and send the photo to the iNaturalist website, where experts can check and confirm whether the observations are correct.

The Bioheritage Challenge programme, Nga Rakau Taketake, funds monitoring of field trials at selected sites during the months (October to April) when myrtle rust infection is most common.

People wanting to know more about myrtle rust and the plants it affects can visit www.myrtlerust.org.nz.

This website is a partnership between Biosecurity New Zealand, the Department of Conservation and regional councils. It hosts a great deal of information about myrtle rust including summaries of the research that is under way and practical resources on how people can deal with myrtle rust if they find it.

The public is urged to remain vigilant in monitoring the spread of myrtle rust. The NZ Myrtaceae Key is also available to help users identify plants in the myrtle family that grow in New Zealand.

DISCOVERED: Myrtle rust was found on a pohutukawa tree at Lottin Point by Graeme Atkins.Picture supplied