Auckland Council and DOC bank seeds for unlikely event of myrtle rust emergency

Myrtle rust has so far been found at two Northland sites.
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Myrtle rust has so far been found at two Northland sites.

The native-tree harming fungus, myrtle rust, is still confined to Northland, but government agencies are banking seeds - just in case.

Myrtle rust is a serious fungal disease that attacks members of the myrtaceae plant family, which includes native pohutukawa, manuka, kanuka and rata trees.

The first case in New Zealand was discovered earlier in May at a nursery in Kerikeri. The second case, in a neighbouring garden.

DOC's Herb Christophers said the arrival of the disease has been expected since 2014.

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Since then, the Department of Conservation has been working with Auckland Council on a seed bank, to ensure viable seeds are available, against any catastrophic event.

While a nationwide, catastrophic outbreak was highly unlikely, the seed bank was just "health insurance".

It has been travelling on a "wispy wind belt" from South America, to South Africa to Australia to New Zealand, Christophers said.

"It is difficult to manage wind-borne fungus," Christophers said. "You can't put a wall up.

"A second infection is inevitable, and it will be too late to find seeds later on. We just want to be prepared and are taking precautions."

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Auckland Council's biodiversity manager Rachel Kelleher said the contingency seed collection plan is purely a precautionary exercise.

DOC is collecting seed from DOC-administered conservation land and Auckland Council is picking up this work for council-owned land, Kelleher said.

Council staff from biosecurity, regional parks and botanic gardens teams are also assisting.

A false spotting of the disease in a nursery in south Auckland May 10, means the cases are still restricted to the two sites in Kerikeri.

The myrtle rust incursion response is being led and managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Report any fungus immediately to 0800 80 99 66.

 - Stuff

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