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Myrtle Rust

As Spring turned into Summer discoveries of myrtle rust  became more frequent, as had been expected.
Auckland, Wellington and Tauranga got added to the locations of Kerikeri, Waitara, Te Kuiti and Te Puke where the rust had originally been discovered and where new infections were constantly being found. Surprisingly, as of the first week of December, the rust had yet to be found in the wild.
MPI, again as expected, in November began talking about swapping to a different form of response, long-term containment, and was in discussions with interested parties, including the NZPPI, about how such a strategy might look. No details were available as Comm Hort went to press.
Only a few species affected
An encouraging sign, if it is possible to have such a thing in the circumstances, has been the narrow range of species so far affected.
MPI says more than 90 percent of infections to date have been to ramarama or pohutukawa.
Included among the others are only very small numbers of lilli pilli and bottlebrush, and only one manuka – not bad when it is remembered that there are many hundreds of myrtaceous species in New Zealand. Of course, that could change in an instant.
It seems inevitable that the range of myrtaceous species being grown and used by councils, landscapers, and the public will narrow.
We have already been hearing from nurseries saying they are going to drop high-risk species as they don’t want anything that might attract the rust to their properties and put their businesses at risk. Anyway, why grow plants for which you know demand is going to fall?
Some garden centres have been making similar decisions for similar reasons. One of the major players, Mitre 10, has advised its members against stocking lophomyrtus at all.
The mainstream Press is continuing to seize on every bit of myrtle rust news as it comes out and this must have seriously raised awareness of the problem among the public and got many hundreds of them out looking for symptoms.
In fact, a free App has been produced to help them do this. Called The Myrtle Rust Reporter it gets people to find and monitor a dozen at-risk plants in their neighbourhood and photograph and submit any suspicious symptoms through the App to MPI.
The App also hooks them into the NatureWatchNZ website so they see where others are looking and avoid duplication. It is downloadable from the iPhone or Android App stores.
If myrtle rust really is going to run rampant through the country, the next few months of hot and humid weather will be when it is going to do so.
Come February/March we should  know more clearly what our future is going to be.               – Des Snell

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