Seeds saved in wake of threat

Auckland City Harbour News - - WHAT’S ON - LAINE MOGER

The na­tive-tree harm­ing fun­gus, myr­tle rust, is still con­fined to North­land, but gov­ern­ment agen­cies are bank­ing seeds - just in case.

Myr­tle rust is a se­ri­ous fun­gal dis­ease that at­tacks mem­bers of the myr­taceae plant fam­ily, which in­cludes na­tive po­hutukawa, manuka, kanuka and rata trees.

The first case in New Zealand was dis­cov­ered ear­lier in May at a nurs­ery in Kerik­eri. The sec­ond case, in a neigh­bour­ing gar­den.

Since then, the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion had been work­ing with Auck­land Coun­cil on a seed bank, to en­sure vi­able seeds were avail­able, against any cat­a­strophic event.

DOC’s Herb Christo­phers said the ar­rival of the dis­ease had been ex­pected since 2014.

While a na­tion­wide, cat­a­strophic out­break was highly un­likely, the seed bank was just ‘‘health in­sur­ance’’.

It has been trav­el­ling on a ‘‘wispy wind belt’’ from South Amer­ica, to South Africa to Aus­tralia to New Zealand, Christo­phers said.

‘‘It is dif­fi­cult to man­age wind-borne fun­gus,’’ Christo­phers said. ’’You can’t put a wall up.

‘‘A sec­ond in­fec­tion is in­evitable, and it will be too late to find seeds later on. We just want to be pre­pared and are tak­ing pre­cau­tions.’’

Symp­toms in­clude bright yel­low pow­dery erup­tions on the leaf or brown or grey rust pus­tules on older le­sions. Leaves could buckle, twist and die off.

The fun­gus threat­ened na­tive trees, but also com­mon plants like fei­joa, eu­ca­lypts and bot­tle brush.

Auck­land Coun­cil’s bio­di­ver­sity man­ager Rachel Kelle­her said the con­tin­gency seed col­lec­tion plan was purely a pre­cau­tion­ary ex­er­cise.

DOC was col­lect­ing seed from DOC-ad­min­is­tered con­ser­va­tion land and Auck­land Coun­cil was pick­ing up this work for coun­cilowned land, Kelle­her said.

Coun­cil staff from biose­cu­rity, re­gional parks and botanic gar­dens teams were also as­sist­ing.

A false spot­ting of the dis­ease in a nurs­ery in south Auck­land May 10, meant the cases were still re­stricted to the two sites in Kerik­eri.

The myr­tle rust in­cur­sion re­sponse was be­ing led and man­aged by the Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries.

MPI said sight­ings should be im­me­di­ately re­ported to 0800 80 99 66.

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