Myrtle rust spores can travel large distances
Plants in the myrtle family include New Zealand's native pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, and some common ornamental garden plants like bottlebrush and lilly pilly.
Myrtle rust spores are microscopic and travel large distances by wind, or by insects, birds, people, or machinery. It is believed that wind carried spores here from Australia, where myrtle rust was first found there in 2010.
The fungus has spread rapidly since the first case in New Zealand was identified in 2017.
Initial response to myrtle rust
Initially, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC), with the help of iwi, the nursery industry and local authorities, ran a response operation to try to contain myrtle rust. We also wanted to determine the extent of its spread.
Within months, it became apparent that the disease was widely dispersed in New Zealand. Spores carry on the wind and there is an abundance of suitable plants that can be infected in our environment. In May 2018, the response was closed, and the focus moved to science to find ways to manage the disease in the longer term.
Myrtle rust is now widely found across the North Island and in some areas of the South Island.
Dedicated website hosts more information and advice
MPI co-ordinates the sharing of information and advice through the Myrtle Rust in New Zealand website. The website is a partnership between Biosecurity New Zealand (a business unit of MPI), DOC, regional councils, and Land Information New Zealand.
On the website, you'll find:
- information about the disease
- what to do if you suspect you have found it
- tools to help identify it and record sightings of it
- an overview of research projects underway to find out more about the disease
- a range of guidance and resources.
Help track the spread of myrtle rust
It is important to understand where myrtle rust has spread to and where it is active. You can help by looking out for signs of myrtle rust.
If you suspect you have found the disease:
- don't touch it
- take a clear in-focus photograph
- submit the photograph to iNaturalist.
Make sure you label your finds as myrtle rust, noting what host plant it has been found on. This information helps experts confirm if the signs are correct.
The science and research into myrtle rust
The focus of investment following the end of the response in 2018 has been in strategic science, through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). A Strategic Science Advisory Group, that includes expert scientists, Māori, and government representatives, remains in place to support and guide myrtle rust science investment.
The science plan was developed in consultation with more than 50 researchers, stakeholders, and Māori.
While the collective focus is now firmly on science and research, DOC, councils, and other agencies continue to be involved in the long-term management of myrtle rust within existing budgets on the land that they own or administer.
The Myrtle Rust Community Group
The BioHeritage National Science Challenge project Ngā Rākau Taketake hosts a Myrtle Rust Community Group which meets online every 2 months. Meetings include updates from:
- science research teams (information sharing on projects or the science plan implementation and other activities)
- government agencies and local councils
- those working in the field.
Community groups, iwi/hapū, science and research organisations, local councils, and other agencies are all welcome to participate in these online sessions. To join the group, email NRTsupport@bioheritage.nz