Myrtle rust

Myrtle rust is a serious fungal disease that affects plants in the myrtle family. Plants in this family include the iconic pōhutukawa, mānuka and rātā as well as some common garden plants such as ramarama and lilly pilly.

UPDATE – 1 May 2018

New approach being taken to manage myrtle rust

If you think you've seen myrtle rust, don't touch it, take a photo, and call 0800 80 99 66.

Where it has been found

– Myrtle rust on ramarama (Lophymyrtus bullata)
Myrtle rust on ramarama
(Lophomyrtus bullata)

Myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) has been found across most of the North Island and upper areas of the South Island. This is consistent with modelling that identified these areas had conditions that were most suited to the myrtle rust fungus.

Taranaki, Auckland, and Bay of Plenty are the most seriously affected areas. Moderate levels of infection are in Northland, Waikato, Manawatu-Whanganui, and Wellington.

Lower levels of infection have been confirmed in Taupo, Tasman, Nelson-Marlborough, Coromandel Peninsula, and the East Cape.

Plants affected

The fungus attacks plants belonging to the Myrtaceae family, also known as the myrtle family.

Most infections have been found on 2 native myrtle types:

  • ramarama (Lophomyrtus) – used widely for residential hedging
  • pōhutukawa and rātā (Metrosideros).

 

A number of other introduced myrtles have also been affected, including lilly pilly (Syzgium) and bottle brush (Callistemon).

During a year of intensive operational activities, owners of properties where infected plants were found were restricted from moving plants and plant material that were known or likely to have been infected. These restrictions are now being progressively lifted.

Myrtle rust continues to be an unwanted organism throughout New Zealand.

Spores can spread easily

Myrtle rust spores are microscopic and can easily spread across large distances by wind, or via insects, birds, people, or machinery.

Evidence suggests the fungus arrived in New Zealand carried by strong winds from Australia where it is well established all down the eastern coast.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC), with the help of local iwi, the nursery industry, and local authorities ran a year-long operation to attempt to contain and control myrtle rust and determine the extent of its spread.

Risk to New Zealand

Myrtle rust could affect iconic New Zealand plants including pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, kānuka, swamp maire and ramarama, as well as commercially-grown species such as eucalyptus.

Severe infestations can kill affected plants and have long-term impacts on the regeneration of young plants and seedlings.

It is not yet known how this disease will affect New Zealand species. Overseas its impacts have varied widely from country to country and plant species to species.

List of plants in the myrtle family [PDF, 477 KB] 

Get monthly updates sent to your inbox

We send out a monthly email newsletter on all myrtle rust activities, including research updates. It is sent on the last Wednesday of the month.

Advice for specific groups

All myrtle species in New Zealand are at some risk from myrtle rust infection, but there are actions you can take to give your myrtle plants the best chance over the long term.

Read our specific advice for:

What MPI is doing

Given the widespread distribution of the disease, MPI has scaled back its activities. We're focusing on:

  • long-term monitoring
  • researching the development of new management approaches across New Zealand. This will build our understanding of myrtle rust and identify possible tools, and treatment and management options.

MPI will continue to help collect, analyse, and report myrtle rust data. The data will allow us to build up the picture of the spread and distribution of infection.

But MPI will no longer be doing field work to manage the disease. Activities like surveillance, and spraying or removing infected trees has stopped.  

Landowners with myrtle rust infection on their property can decide how to manage their plants themselves. MPI will continue to provide advice and guidance on what people can do to manage myrtle rust on their own properties.

What you can do

You're still encouraged to continue to report any possible cases of myrtle rust. Phone our biosecurity hotline on 0800 80 99 66. Your calls will help us to:

  • track the spread and monitor the impacts of the disease
  • understand any resistance in native species.

Your help is vital to our long-term myrtle rust management and research programmes.

Other long-term planning activities

We are:

  • engaging with iwi, communities and councils across New Zealand
  • looking at ways that MPI can support those who wish to do their own biosecurity activities
  • developing a programme to provide training to support community-based monitoring for interested groups.

We've also established a cross-sector working group. It will provide input and recommendations on agreed goals that will underpin a collaborative long-term management plan across the country.

This group includes members from MPI, Department of Conservation, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, regional councils, Project Crimson, and Māori organisations with an interest in biosecurity.

We'll circulate a draft long-term management strategy and action plan for public comment, before it's finalised in late December 2018.

Research programme

Research is vital to help us understand myrtle rust and limit its impact on our myrtle plants. MPI has commissioned a comprehensive research programme made up of more than 20 projects and valued at over $4.5 million.

Find out more

Watch videos on YouTube featuring 'Bug Man' Ruud Kleinpaste

Who to contact

If you have questions about myrtle rust, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed:
Has this been useful? Give us your feedback