Catching up on the news

Big pile of papers waiting for me when I got home and I’m still only part-way through them and not reading in date order …

The Elms Mission House in Tauranga is planning an ‘iconic heritage garden’ on a corner site that has been designed in collaboration with historians, heritage architects, archaeologists and tangata whenua. At the centre of the garden will be a sheltered visitor pavilion. If funding applications are successful, The Elms Foundation hopes to have the garden done and dusted this year. Read an earlier posting about The Elms and its garden(s).

A new, multi-million dollar art garden has opened at Matakana, north of Auckland – Sculptureum is on a 25ha site developed by Anthony and Sandra Grant and includes three gardens, six galleries and a café. One of the pieces on show is a glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly of Seattle (if you’re going that way be sure to visit Chihuly Garden and Glass). Sculptureum is open to visitors Thursday-Monday with no cellphone conversations allowed in the gardens and galleries! What a brilliant ban to put in place.

Australian biosecurity officials are getting a name for themselves – after incinerating  irreplaceable 19th century plant specimens sent from France to the Queensland Herbarium to aid research (read the full story), oops, they did it again!

Border officials destroyed six lichen specimens, owned by Landcare Research in New Zealand and including a lichen classified as of special scientific value, which were being sent to the National Herbarium in Canberra. Landcare has suspended loans to Australia until protocols are sorted out, although the Australian officials have already admitted the specimens should not have been destroyed and their actions contravened their own procedures! Duh! Read more here.

Sadly, for growers in New Zealand, myrtle rust has been discovered this month at a nursery and adjoining property in Kerikeri. This serious fungal disease has been unknown in the country until now but is wind borne and prevalent in Australia to the west, New Caledonia to the northwest and Raoul Island to the northeast so I suppose it was only a matter of time. Austropuccinia psidii is also known as guava rust and eucalyptus rust.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website says: “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, feijoa and guava.

Photo: Ministry for Primary Industries

“Severe infestations can kill affected plants and have long-term impacts on the regeneration of young plants and seedlings. It is not known how this disease will affect New Zealand species. Overseas its impacts have varied widely from country to country and plant species to species.”

The Kerikeri property is in lockdown and movement restrictions are in place but it’s going to be difficult containing something windborne. If you think you’ve seen myrtle rust, phone the MPI hotline 0800 80 99 66 (photos appreciated but don’t try and collect a specimen).

Writing on the NZ Farm Forestry website in 2015, Lindsay Bulman offers some background to the disease: First described in Brazil in 1884, the rust was recorded from Central America, Florida and Mexico by the 1970s. There has been a rapid expansion over the past 10 years, primarily through the live plant trade. Myrtle rust has been recorded from Hawaii (2005), Japan (2007), southern China (2009), Australia (2010) in NSW and then Queensland in the same year, followed by Victoria in 2011 and most recently Tasmania in February 2015. In 2013, it was reported from both South Africa and New Caledonia.

“While the disease rarely kills adult plants, extremely susceptible species may be threatened. For instance the Malabar plum, or rose apple, Syzygium jambo, which is exotic in Hawaii, suffered widespread dieback and death following the introduction of myrtle rust.”

Read more myrtle rust articles from the NZFF website.

A Stuff report quotes Northland nurseryman Russell Fransham as saying a friend of his, a nursery owner in Queensland, reports that the impact is highly variable between species, and some appear to be more resistant than others.

“He said the first year or two was devastating, there was so much carnage among the myrtles, but some were virtually unaffected even though they are surrounded by it. Now where he is in Brisbane, he says it’s hard to see much evidence of it so it sounds quite hopeful.”

But in the meantime it’s a stack of worry for everyone.

Update May 23: Myrtle rust has now been confirmed in nurseries in Taranaki and Te Kuiti which means that it’s probably too late to do too much. In a comment attached to this post from Catherine Stewart of the GardenDrum website, she says: While the effect of myrtle rust on Australian nursery stock seems to have diminished over the past couple of years, I think this is because many are no longer propagating the most affected plants, such as Austromyrtus ‘Blushing Beauty’. Certainly Brett Summerell at Sydney’s RBG thinks that several of our iconic plants, such as the biggest of the paperbarks (Melaleuca quinqenervia) is on a “100-year extinction curve”.