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Fungal disease threatens native trees

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/05/2017

© @MPI_NZ / Twitter A Kerikeri nursery is in lockdown after the detection of a fungal disease that attacks native trees and could threaten the manuka honey industry.

It's the first time myrtle rust has been found on the mainland and spores probably blew in from Australia, where it's been since 2010, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says.

"We will do what we can to eradicate it in this particular area but it's very challenging because it moves around very easily," he told reporters.

"No other country has succeeded in eradicating it."

Mr Guy says the arrival of myrtle rust had been anticipated, and New Zealand scientists had been working with their Australian counterparts on ways to deal with it.

"It's early days yet but it could well have an effect on the manuka honey industry," he said.

"In Australia, it takes three to five years to show signs on manuka trees."

Countermeasures are in full swing.

Photos of the rust have been published so that anyone who thinks they've seen it can contact the ministry.

The nursery in Kerikeri has been sprayed and nearby areas are being monitored.

It affects feijoas, and Mr Guys says that's another way it could spread.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says the disease attacks all plants and trees that are members of the myrtle family - about 6000 varieties - and could seriously affect some of them.

"Myrtle rust generally attacks soft new leaf growth, and severe infestations can kill affected plants," she said.

Mr Guy says it can be killed by using fungicides, but it's very difficult to get rid of.

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