News | 27 March 2018

Myrtle rust discovered in Wellington City; Council calls for public vigilance

Wellington City’s first confirmed myrtle rust infection has prompted Wellington City Council to ask the public to be vigilant about checking for and reporting suspected sightings of the deadly tree fungus.

Myrtle rust on a ramarama tree in Highbury Wellington. Photo Credit: Matthew Robinson

The Ministry for Primary Industries is investigating the incursion, which was discovered on a ramarama tree near Zealandia in Highbury late last week. 
Wellington City Council Environment Partnership Leader Tim Park says a local myrtle rust incursion was inevitable but can be better managed if Wellingtonians are vigilant about reporting suspected infections.
“It’s important people report suspected sightings of myrtle rust to the Ministry for Primary Industries so we can understand and manage its spread. We have many trees in Wellington such as pōhutukawa and rata that could be seriously impacted by the fungus.
“As a worst-case long-term scenario, a serious infestation could change the face of pōhutukawa-rich suburbs like Seatoun and Island Bay. However, we’re talking with counterparts in Australia, who have had years of experience dealing with myrtle rust, to understand how they are managing the threat and what it could mean for Wellington.

“If you think you have seen myrtle rust, please take a photo, while taking great care not to touch the plant, and contact the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 80 99 66. When it comes to myrtle rust infections, ramarama are like the canary in the goldmine, so people should keep a close eye on them in particular,” Park says.

Wellington City Council partner organisation Zealandia has put in place surveillance to detect myrtle rust infections. 

Zealandia Conservation and Research Manager Dr Danielle Shanahan says, “myrtle rust is definitely a big concern for Zealandia, but in reality we still know very little about how it might affect our native forests”. 

“We are undertaking careful surveillance in the sanctuary to ensure organisations such as the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation have the best information to map its spread, and to identify ways to look after affected species,” she says. 
The disease could also affect other native plants which only occur naturally in New Zealand such as Bartlett’s rata and swamp maire. Wellington City Council and Zealandia are working together to protect these species locally. Other notable plants known to be susceptible are lilly pilly, gum trees, bottle brushes and feijoa.
Crown Research Institute Scion has developed a smartphone app to help people report myrtle rust and plants in the myrtle family. It can be found by searching “Myrtle Rust Reporter” in Google Play or the app store. The app is bilingual and contributes information to a public database of nature observations.

The Highbury sighting is the first report of myrtle rust in the Wellington City area, however there are about 30 known infestations in Wellington region, most of which are in the Hutt Valley. 

While the fungus has spread quickly throughout the North Island it could take years to seriously affect large trees.