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Trust halts planting due to Myrtle rust

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/06/2017

The total number of Myrtle rust infections found across the country has grown to 32, leading a trust that plants pohutukawa and rata trees to halt its work until spring.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said on Wednesday it had identified infections of the fungal plant disease in Taranaki, Northland and Waikato.

They were at a mix of plant nurseries, private gardens, retailers/distributors and an orchard.

Project Crimson, which has planted thousands of pohutukawa and rata since 1990, said on Friday that Myrtle rust is the most critical threat to both tree species it has ever seen.

The trust has temporarily halted the planting and distributing of any pohutukawa or rata trees and is asking New Zealanders to follow their lead.

"We are asking Kiwis to help by not planting pohutukawa or rata trees for the remainder of the 2017 planting season [typically until mid-spring]," says Project Crimson trustee Dr Gordon Hosking.

"Because Myrtle rust becomes dormant over winter, infected plants may not show symptoms until spring, so this gives us more time to understand the impact Myrtle rust is going to have on pohutukawa and rata and also prevent people from unwittingly spreading this serious fungal disease further."

One of the most extensive outbreaks was in an established pohutukawa hedge belt in Taranaki," MPI said in a statement on Wednesday.

MPI spokesman David Yard told Radio NZ finding the disease in mature trees backed up the theory the spores had drifted over the Tasman.

"If it is, as we postulate, spores being carried from Australia, then they won't just be in two localised areas," he said.

He said scientists had identified six possible weather events that could have blown the disease over.

The fungal disease was first found at a Kerikeri, Northland, nursery in early May.

It's been found on ramarama, eucalyptus and manuka plants, but no cases on feijoa trees have been reported, MPI said.

It attacks native trees and could cause serious damage to manuka trees, used in honey production.

There is no known method for controlling it in the wild, other than applying fungicide in very small areas.

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