Testing by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has today revealed myrtle rust infection at a plant nursery in Taranaki.
The nursery in Waitara (just north of New Plymouth) reported suspected myrtle rust symptoms on young plants to the Ministry’s 0800 number yesterday (Tuesday).
An investigator travelled to New Plymouth immediately to collect samples and the positive test results were confirmed late this morning.
MPI’s Myrtle Rust Response Incident Controller David Yard says that, as with the nursery in Kerikeri, movement controls have been placed on the Taranaki property. [Note: Kerikeri was the first location in mainland New Zealand where the rust was confirmed].
"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."
MPI thanks the Taranaki nursery owner for being vigilant and reporting the suspect symptoms to the 0800 number.
"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.
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 pōhutukawa, rātā, and mānuka 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."
There are 2 main reasons why the rust has been seen first in nurseries. Growing conditions there are ideal for the fungus with many vulnerable young plants in sheltered, warm and damp environments. In addition, there has been a large amount of communication with the nursery industry and growers have been particularly vigilant in checking their plants.
"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 where the infection is widespread," Mr Yard says.
The Ministry will once again partner with the Department of Conservation, local iwi, local authorities and the plant production industries in on-the-ground management.
Members of the public who believe they have seen signs of myrtle rust are advised:
- do not touch it or the plant
- take a photo of the rust and the plant
- call MPI's Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66.