Myrtle rust

Myrtle rust is a serious fungal disease that affects plants in the myrtle family. Plants in this family include the iconic pōhutukawa, mānuka and rātā as well as some common garden plants such as ramarama and lilly pilly.

UPDATE – 1 May 2018

New approach being taken to manage myrtle rust

If you think you've seen myrtle rust, don't touch it, take a photo, and call 0800 80 99 66.

Background

– Myrtle rust on ramarama (Lophymyrtus bullata)
Myrtle rust on ramarama
(Lophomyrtus bullata)

Myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) has been found in 11 North Island regions – Auckland, Thames-Coromandel, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Taupo, Gisborne, Manawatu, Wellington and Tasman.

It is also widespread on Raoul Island in the Kermadec group north-east of Northland.

The fungus attacks plants belonging to the Myrtaceae family, also known as the myrtle family.

It is found in many parts of the world including New Caledonia and all along Australia's eastern seaboard.

Spores can spread easily

Myrtle rust spores are microscopic and can easily spread across large distances by wind, or via insects, birds, people, or machinery.

Evidence suggests the fungus arrived in New Zealand carried by strong winds from Australia where it is well established all down the eastern coast.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC), with the help of local iwi, the nursery industry, and local authorities ran a year-long operation to attempt to contain and control myrtle rust and determine the extent of its spread.

Risk to New Zealand

Myrtle rust could affect iconic New Zealand plants including pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, kānuka, swamp maire and ramarama, as well as commercially-grown species such as eucalyptus.

Severe infestations can kill affected plants and have long-term impacts on the regeneration of young plants and seedlings.

It is not yet known how this disease will affect New Zealand species. Overseas its impacts have varied widely from country to country and plant species to species.

List of plants in the myrtle family [PDF, 477 KB] 

Get monthly updates sent to your inbox

We send out a monthly email newsletter on all myrtle rust activities, including research updates. It is sent on the last Wednesday of the month.

Advice for specific groups

All myrtle species in New Zealand are at some risk from myrtle rust infection, but there are actions you can take to give your myrtle plants the best chance over the long term.

Read our specific advice for:

What MPI is doing from 1 May 2018

Myrtle rust has now spread to many parts of New Zealand that have a suitable climate. We also have limited tools available to manage the disease. From 1 May 2018, we have adopted a new approach which involves:

  • scaling back our operations and stopping surveillance in areas that are known to be infected
  • conducting surveillance only in new areas where myrtle rust has not yet become established
  • treating new infections only at sites with isolated low-level infections where we can quickly suppress symptoms and attempt local elimination in the short term
  • lifting movement restrictions in known infected areas
  • allowing landowners with myrtle rust infection on their property to decide how to manage their plants
  • issuing permissions to landowners in known infected areas allowing them to dispose of infected myrtle plant material in local landfills as general waste
  • working with DOC, iwi, the nursery industry, scientists, and local authorities to explore options for future management.

Why are we changing our approach?

It is clear that eradication of myrtle rust from New Zealand is not feasible using the tools we have available. Restricting human activity at this time will not make a significant contribution to slowing the spread of the disease. Focusing our efforts on surveillance in areas where myrtle rust has not been found and undertaking spray and tree removal only at sites with isolated low-level infections will allow us to quickly suppress symptoms and attempt local elimination in these areas in the short term.

At the same time, we are investing significantly in scientific research to develop new tools, build an understanding of myrtle rust and explore possible treatment and management options. Regardless of where you live, myrtle rust continues to be considered an unwanted organism throughout New Zealand. We continue to encourage landowners to regularly check the health of their myrtle plants.

Our approach in areas where myrtle rust hasn't been found

We encourage residents in these areas who see signs of myrtle rust to call our Biosecurity Hotline (0800 80 99 66).

Our surveillance effort will target areas where myrtle rust has not become established.

Restrictions may still be used where infection levels are extremely low.

Our approach in known infected areas

We’ll be contacting affected owners and giving them self-management packs. The packs will:

  • set out their responsibilities under the Biosecurity Act
  • give advice about maintaining their property to minimise the spread of disease.

Other long-term planning activities

We are engaging with iwi and councils in affected regions to look at ways that MPI can support communities who wish to conduct their own biosecurity activities. We are also developing a programme to provide training to support community-based surveillance for interested groups in their regions. A long-term strategy will be developed over the next 2 years, with input sought from groups including iwi, councils, industry and DOC.

Research programme

Research is vital to help us understand myrtle rust and limit its impact on our myrtle plants. MPI has commissioned a comprehensive research programme made up of more than 20 projects and valued at over $4.5 million.

Find out more

Watch videos on YouTube featuring 'Bug Man' Ruud Kleinpaste

Who to contact

If you have questions about myrtle rust, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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