Biosecurity New Zealand (part of the Ministry for Primary Industries) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) have launched an online training programme to help New Zealanders identify suspected myrtle rust infections in their backyards.
The plant fungus can be hard to identify without training and can look different during seasonal changes. The new online training modules provide resources to better understand the fungus and its symptoms.
"The courses are available to everyone and cover how it spreads, what to do if you find it and climatic factors that influence myrtle rust," says Biosecurity New Zealand’s manager for recovery and pest management, John Sanson.
The courses provide guidance for people that are interested in learning more about myrtle rust in New Zealand. DOC and Biosecurity New Zealand have also developed a new website as a central place to house resources and information (http://www.myrtlerust.org.nz/ ).
"We are trying to understand the spread of the disease so are asking staff and the public to keep an eye out for myrtle rust over the autumn months," Mr Sanson says.
New Zealand’s precious native myrtle plants including pōhutukawa, rātā, mānuka, kānuka and ramarama are vulnerable to the disease. The fungus, which is mainly spread by wind, generally infects shoots, buds, and young leaves of myrtle plants. Infected plants show typical symptoms including bright yellow powdery spots on the underside of leaves but can also show other symptoms such as grey powdery spots during the cooler months.
DOC's project manager for myrtle rust, Fiona Thomson, says the website is an excellent tool for the public to learn what myrtle plants look like, how to spot myrtle rust and what to do when you find infected plants.
"The more eyes looking out for myrtle rust, the better we can monitor this disease and protect our precious myrtles", says Dr Thomson.
If you think you see symptoms of myrtle rust, especially in areas where it has not yet been found, remember to not touch the plant or collect samples, but take pictures and report it to Biosecurity New Zealand’s Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66