Ministry officials disappointed by discovery of myrtle rust in the Wellington region

The fungal plant disease myrtle rust has been found in Lower Hutt, north of Wellington.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says its laboratory has confirmed positive infection in three ramarama (Lophmyrtus bullata) plants in a Hutt Valley garden.

The two-metre-high plants are in a row and are heavily infected, says the myrtle rust response incident controller Catherine Duthie.

Myrtle rust is a fungus that attacks – and can potentially seriously affect – myrtle species plants, including natives such as pōhutukawa, ramarama, mānuka and rātā.

“This new find, significantly further south of other known infection in the upper North Island, is very disappointing,” Dr Duthie says.

As with other positive finds, the trees are having their foliage sealed to prevent spore drift and are then being removed and deep buried.

“All efforts to date have been to contain infection where it is found. However, we have been planning for the possibility that it turns out to be widespread and are realistic that it won’t be feasible to keep removing all infected trees found long term.

“This new find will see us review our tactics and could signal a move to a longer-term approach to managing it in partnership with others, including local authorities, iwi and hapū, plant production industry, and interested individuals and groups.

“We’ll be keeping people informed about any decisions and will provide the most up-to-date information about best practice in fighting this disease,” Dr Duthie says.

In the meantime, the ministry is encouraging people to keep an eye out for the disease in myrtle species.

“So far ramarama and pōhutukawa are the species we’re finding most affected and these are the ones to look at carefully.

Anyone  who believes they have seen the distinctive yellow fungus are advised not to touch the plant or the rust, because this may spread it. If possible, they should try to get a good photo of the plant and the yellow patches and contact the ministry on 0800 80 99 66.

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