Potentially devastating Myrtle rust found at Taranaki nursery

Myrtle rust has been found at a nursery in the Taranaki.

Myrtle rust has been found at a nursery in the Taranaki.

Myrtle rust has been confirmed at a plant nursery at Taranaki.

Testing by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) confirms Lophomytlus seedlings at a Waitara nursery just north of New Plymouth have the disease. 

Called in on May 16, an investigator travelled to New Plymouth immediately to collect samples and the positive test results were confirmed on May 17, MPI's Myrtle Rust Response Incident Controller David Yard said.

Strict controls on movement around the Taranaki nursery have been put in place.This is the second location in the country the rust has been confirmed.

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"There are no movements of plants or other risk materials off the site. We are now preparing to treat the location with fungicide and will begin the job of inspecting the area out to 500m from the infection site,"Yard said.

"The earlier we locate a new infection, the greater the chance of doing something about it. As with Kerikeri, we'll be throwing everything at it to attempt to control it, but we are realistic that it is a huge challenge, given how readily the spores spread by the wind.

The second site, particularly so far from the first, confirms fears the disease, which is spread by spores carried on the wind will be very difficult to contain and management rather than eradication may be a more realistic outcome.

MPI confirms the seedlings originate from mother plants grown on site, rather than from the wild. 

Myrtle rust has become wide spread in eastern Australia since arriving there in 2010. That it would be spread on winds across the Tasman Sea was always seen as likely by many, including within the forestry industry.

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"While we are unlikely to ever know exactly how myrtle rust arrived in New Zealand, the most likely entry route remains being carried here on the wind from Australia," Mr Yard says.

"Finding myrtle rust in a new region could be the sign that we will need to learn to live with this fungal plant disease. Myrtle rust infects plants in the myrtle family including pohutukawa, rata, and manuka as well as some production species including feijoa and eucalypts.

"However, at this point in time MPI is focussed on containing the disease in the Waitara and Kerikeri sites," Mr Yard said. "We continue to apply all necessary resource to this approach."

Growing conditions in nurseries are seen as ideal for the fungus with many vulnerable young plants in sheltered, warm and damp environments. 

Members of the public who believe they have seen signs of myrtle rust are advised not to touch it or the plant.  Take a photo of the rust and the plant and call MPI's Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66.

 - Stuff

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