Myrtle Rust could decimate NZ natives
The attack on pohutukawa started by possums could be finished off by myrtle rust.
Conservation Department staff are collecting seeds nationwide in case of a potentially catastrophic outbreak of the fungal disease.
Some staff are even dangling from helicopters to reach remote specimens.
Myrtle rust attacks members of the myrtaceae plant family, which includes pohutukawa, manuka, kanuka, rata and feijoa trees.
The disease has already been found on 25 properties - two in Waikato, three in Northland and 20 in Taranaki.
Hauraki DOC senior ranger Nicholas Hamon said DOC was preparing for the worst by collecting the seeds of the treasured natives.
‘‘It’s absolutely something that people should be vigilant for. Obviously the Government is taking it very seriously with collecting seeds,’’ he said.
‘‘A lot of our coastal pohutukawa have already been lost on the peninsula through possum browse, so there are big segments of our coastline actually devoid of pohutukawa now.
‘‘And to lose those last big segments would just be a tragedy, an absolute tragedy. There’s a lot at stake with this.’’
Whitianga DOC staff were hanging from a helicopter to collect the seeds this week in some remote regions, such as the Moehau Range at the top of the Coromandel, he said.
In the Thames/Hauraki area, manuka and pohutukawa seeds from 50 specimens were collected. Pohutukawa seeds were collected from Tararu to Waiomu and manuka seeds were taken from Kopuatai peat dome on the Hauraki Plains.
‘‘They are ensuring that we have a seed bank of seeds from this generation of trees so that if the worst should happen,’’ Hamon said.
‘‘If myrtle took over the penin- sula, and it was actually 90 per cent of our pohutukawa lost, we’ve got that genetic strain stored from the peninsula pohutukawa to replace them.’’
DOC staff found no signs of myrtle rust on any of the pohutukawa or manuka in Hauraki that they looked at, he said.
DOC is urging everyone to check neighbourhood trees and if there are any concerns, phone the Ministry for Primary Industries hotline: 0800 80 99 66.
If you think you’ve spotted myrtle rust, don’t touch the infection. Find more information at mpi.govt.nz/alerts or doc.govt.nz.
Pohutukawa trees are one species potentially affected by myrtle rust.