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Myrtle’s here

‘Horse has bolted’ on stopping the spread: DoC ranger

A DEVASTATING discovery of myrtle rust was made at the Women’s Native Tree Project Trust nursery in Stout Street this week.

This means the fungal disease that severely attacks plants in the myrtle family, including pohutukawa, manuka and rata, has most likely spread across the region.

The discovery was made on Wednesday when Department of Conservation East Coast ranger Graeme Atkins was visiting the nursery to touch base with the group.

WNTPT nursery manager Kauri Forno says the discovery was an awful moment.

“I have been checking regularly,” she said. “Every few weeks I would do a detailed look through the myrtle species — kanuka, manuka and pohutukawa— we have at the nursery.

But when Graeme showed up and we were talking about how humid it was here about a fortnight ago, we decided to check. And he found some. I was completely shocked.

Ms Forno and Mr Atkins went back through the plants and found another five infected plants. All were pohutukawa. No sign of it was found on the manuka and kanuka. The nursery doesn’t grow ramarama, which is a native myrtle species found to be infected all over the East Coast.

Ms Forno was gutted.

“It brings it home, it makes it personal. I’m devastated. This proves it’s not just up the Coast — it’s right here on my babies I collected from seed,” she said.

Gisborne District Council’s biodiversity team visited the nursery yesterday and found three more infected pohutukawa.

Ms Forno must now check the myrtle species every four days.

She said she had been told by GDC that myrtle rust had been found on ramarama bushes in Kaiti and recently in the Lytton West area.

“The spores could have been here for months and that humidity two weeks ago made them start growing.”

If or when Ms Forno finds more infected plants, she has to bury, burn or landfill the whole plant. So far all the infected plants have been bagged and sent to landfill.

“GDC knows it’s at our nursery. If it spreads to our manuka or kanuka we need to let them know.”

Mr Atkins said he was always on the lookout for myrtle rust and usually found it. “People need to search in their garden and look for it. I bet this won’t be the only myrtle rust in Gizzy. The horse has bolted on stopping the spread.

Public urged to check plants for myrtle rust

“Myrtle rust is the worst it has ever been in the four years since it has been here.

“I don’t think it will get any better. The public need to check their plants and keep an eye out for it across the region and report the findings.”

A Myrtle Rust Infection Risk and Surveillance map shows only a small portion of reported cases of infection in the region. Most are along the East Coast and at East Cape.

Myrtle species of plants include pohutukawa, manuka, rata, kanuka, rohutu, swamp maire, ramarama, bottlebrushes, feijoa, guava, eucalyptus, lilly pilly and willow myrtle.

New Zealand has 37 native myrtles, 25 of which are endemic, which means they cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

You can use Biosecurity New Zealand’s Myrtle Rust ID Guide at tinyurl.com/4bkvertd or check out the identify myrtle rust page at

tinyurl.com/ax3v9p7 to help identify myrtles and myrtle rust.

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and Biosecurity New Zealand have partnered in the development of the NZ Myrtaceae Key — a free app that makes it easy for citizen biosecurity volunteers to identify susceptible plants and keep an eye out for the fungal disease myrtle rust. The app is available on the App store and Google Play store.

Biosecurity New Zealand acting manager for pest management Megan Verry says myrtle rust is now widely distributed across much of the North Island and in the north and west of the South Island.

Ms Verry says while the collective focus is now firmly on science and research, the Department of Conservation, councils and other agencies continue to be involved in the long-term management of myrtle rust within existing budgets on the land that they own or administer.

“Organisations, such as Auckland Council continue to produce practical tools to help industry and homeowners manage myrtle rust.

“We have been publishing these on the myrtle rust website. For example, resources for gardeners such as when to prune, when to water, how to remove infected plants and reducing impacts through plant selection.

There are specific guidelines for nurseries growing myrtle rust host material such as the New Zealand Plant Producers Incorporated Myrtle Rust Nursery Management Protocol which can be accessed at tinyurl.com/26wenefw

“Members of the public are encouraged to continue to report new findings of myrtle rust via the iNaturalist website, where experts can check to confirm whether the observations are correct,” Ms Verry said.

“Anyone who thinks they see symptoms of myrtle rust are advised not to touch it, but to take photos, including the whole plant and a close-up of the spores or affected area of the plant, and submit them to iNaturalist.

“There is more information about myrtle rust on www.myrtlerust.org.nz, a website partnership between Biosecurity New Zealand, the Department of Conservation and regional councils.

“This site has information about the disease, research and science, and practical resources on how people can deal with myrtle rust if they find it.”

CHECKING: Women’s Native Tree Project Trust nursery manager Kauri Forno checking her pohutukawa “babies” at the nursery. Picture by Liam Clayton
SPREADING: A screenshot of the Myrtle Rust infection risk and surveillance map that keeps track of myrtle rust infections across New Zealand and shows a small portion of reported infected myrtles here.
DEVASTATING: Myrtle rust was discovered on pohutakawa plants in the Women’s Native Tree Project Trust nursery on Wednesday. Picture supplied
RUST NEVER SLEEPS: Gisborne District Council principal scientist Dr Murry Cave took this picture yesterday of a ramarama plant infected by myrtle rust. Myrtle rust is a disease caused by the exotic fungus Austropuccinia psidii and affects plants in the myrtle family such as manuka and pohutukawa. It can cause deformed leaves, heavy defoliation of branches, reduced fertility, dieback, stunted growth, and plant death. It appears as yellow or white spots on the upper leaves or reddish/orange blister-like swellings on the underside of leaves which contain spores.