Timeline of myrtle rust in New Zealand

Myrtle rust is widely distributed across the North Island and in the north and west of the South Island. This timeline tracks its spread across the country, and efforts to manage the disease and safeguard New Zealand’s myrtles.


Timeline of myrtle rust in New Zealand


Following the discovery of myrtle rust in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2017, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation, with the help of iwi, the nursery industry and local authorities, ran an operation to attempt to contain and control myrtle rust and determine the extent of its spread.

Within months it became apparent that with the wind-borne nature of the disease and the abundance of suitable plants that can be infected in our environment, the disease had spread rapidly. In May 2018, MPI announced the closure of control operations and the focus moved to finding ways to manage the disease in the longer term.

There is now a strong focus on science to find ways to manage and slow the spread of the disease. Everyone from researchers to the groups managing myrtle rust on the ground are encouraged to work together to help safeguard and sustain our native myrtles.

Working together to safeguard myrtles 

March 2020

A trans-Tasman research collaboration announces it has successfully completed the assembly of a nearly complete genome for the fungus that causes myrtle rust. The task of assembling the genome took many months because the Austropuccinia psidii genome is far larger than expected. It’s the largest fungal genome assembled to date. This work provides a valuable resource for research being undertaken to develop strategic approaches to combat the spread of the disease myrtle rust.

Laboratory testing of fungicide effectiveness against myrtle rust was conducted on two susceptible New Zealand native myrtles; the garden hybrid Lophomyrtus ‘Magic Dragon’ and pōhutukawa. Overall, the findings showed those fungicides that included a demethylation inhibitor and strobilurin were most effective. 

A new research paper summarises the diagnostic activities undertaken during the myrtle rust response in New Zealand.

February 2020

A study is released containing new evidence that the fungus that causes myrtle rust is reproducing sexually in New Zealand in addition to cloning itself. This means the fungus is likely to have a better chance of adapting to natural plant resistance as well as biological and chemical controls.

January 2020

A new long-term monitoring form for myrtle rust in New Zealand is published on www.myrtlerust.org.nz. The form is for use by groups who have some level of knowledge of myrtle rust symptoms and who will be monitoring symptoms on specific host trees or stands of trees over time.

An updated map of myrtle rust in New Zealand contains records of both uninfected host plants as well as the latest known distribution of the disease in New Zealand. The map combines datasets from Biosecurity New Zealand, iNaturalist, the Department of Conservation, Plant and Food Research, and Botanic Gardens. 

A myrtle rust science stocktake is published, developed by Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho (part of NZ’s Biological Heritage Challenge), with assistance from the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries.

December 2019

A New Zealand Garden Journal article Impacts of myrtle rust in New Zealand since its arrival in 2017  provides a summary of the impact of myrtle rust in New Zealand to date.

November 2019

Ngā Rākau Taketake restarted the Myrtle Rust Community group, which includes community groups, science/research organisations, local councils and government agencies. The group meets online every two months. The aim of these informal catch ups is to ensure those involved in myrtle rust work are well connected and have access to the same information. Meetings include updates from science research teams (information sharing on projects, science plan implementation etc), news from government agencies/local councils and field updates from those working in the ngahere. Organisations interested in joining the community group can contact NRTsupport@bioheritage.nz.

November 2019

Beyond Myrtle Rust, a $13 million research programme managed by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare NZ, sponsors a myrtle rust symposium at the 2020 New Zealand Ecological Society Conference in Christchurch with presenters sharing myrtle rust research updates. 

The new Myrtle Rust Stakeholder Group meets for the first time.

October 2019

The Myrtle Rust Governance Group agrees to disband after completion of the Myrtle Rust Strategy.

The group is replaced by a new Myrtle Rust Stakeholder Group whose purpose is to:

  • support and encourage the sharing of knowledge and information between scientists, practitioners, organisations, communities and individuals
  • ensure consistent messages are shared around the current situation, impacts and what to do about myrtle rust.
  • provide a platform for organisations to raise issues and consider actions.

A University of Canterbury researcher is awarded an $800,000 fellowship to accelerate research into saving native trees from fungal pathogens, including myrtle rust.

September 2019

The 2019 Myrtle Rust Science Symposium is held in Auckland, 9-10 September, attracting almost 100 stakeholders, including researchers, iwi, councils, funders, honey and plant industry representatives and academics. Delegates discuss the latest research findings, management tools and approaches and share insights, learnings and new initiatives.

July 2019

The Myrtle Rust Strategic Science Advisory Group releases the Myrtle Rust Science Plan. The Science Plan can be used by all New Zealanders as a guide to what science will be most valuable for the management of myrtle rust. The science plan was developed in consultation with more than 50 researchers, stakeholders and Māori.

The New Zealand Myrtle Rust Strategy 2019-2023 is released, approved by the Myrtle Rust Governance Group. It provides a framework to guide a collective and collaborative approach to dealing with myrtle rust over the next five years. The Strategy was prepared by Biosecurity New Zealand following a series of workshops with key partners, including Māori and a range of stakeholders.

The Strategy focuses on:

  • growing knowledge of myrtle rust behaviour and impacts;
  • identifying options for its future management and minimising impacts;
  • identifying ways to conserve genetic material of myrtle species; and
  • supporting tāngata whenua, partners and stakeholders as they make decisions about their plants and the places that are important to them that may be affected by myrtle rust.

Science is clearly a critical input to achieving the strategy.

June 2019

By the end of June 2019, 1098 infected sites have been confirmed by Biosecurity New Zealand. Given the now widespread distribution of the disease, formal recording of infected sites in areas known to be infected is discontinued. MPI’s focus shifts to supporting property managers, councils, iwi, central government, and researchers to use science to better understand the disease and learn how to help manage its impact and safeguard New Zealand’s myrtles.

The Department of Conservation, councils and other agencies continue to be involved in the long-term management of myrtle rust within existing budgets.

The public is encouraged to report myrtle rust findings via the iNaturalist website (a crowdsourced website), where experts can check to confirm the plant species and whether the symptoms are consistent with myrtle rust.

MPI’s research programme concludes and the myrtle rust website is maintained to share research progress and practical resources for groups managing myrtle rust on the ground and home gardeners.

May 2019

Myrtle rust is confirmed in Greymouth, the first time on the West Coast of the South Island.

Focus on science and research 

December 2018

A Myrtle Rust Symposium and Workshop is held in Wellington (13-14 December), organised by the Myrtle Rust Strategic Science Advisory Group. Stakeholders share the current state of knowledge of myrtle rust science and identify research priorities for a Myrtle Rust Science Plan.

November 2018

The Government announces funding of $5 million over three years for research to combat the spread of myrtle rust. This investment is to be managed by New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. This research will build on aspects of MPI- funded research.

September 2018

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research’s Beyond Myrtle Rust programme is awarded $13 million from the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment’s Endeavour Fund for a five-year collaborative research programme into the behaviour, ecology and impacts of the disease in New Zealand.

The programme has four interlinking research areas: pathogen dynamics; ecosystem impacts; novel mitigation techniques; kaitiakitanga and Māori-led solutions.

Targeted surveillance has now ceased given the widespread distribution of myrtle rust throughout most regions of New Zealand and the lack of effective tools to slow its spread.


Shift from response to a long-term approach

May 2018

The response is now closed and Biosecurity New Zealand has shifted to a long-term approach. Targeted surveillance and organism management in known infected areas has ceased but continues in high risk areas where myrtle rust has not been detected, or where the prevalence is low.  Urgent research continues to investigate and test possible treatments for myrtle rust, boost resistance, and develop techniques for long-term storage of native myrtle germplasm.

April 2018

After 11 months of intensive activity, more than 95,000 myrtle plants have been inspected and approximately 5000 myrtle plants securely removed and destroyed. It is recognised that it is not feasible to contain the disease and the decision is taken to move from response to a long-term management approach. The future focus is firmly on research to treat myrtle rust, boost resistance, and develop techniques for long-term storage of myrtle germplasm.

The Department of Conservation continues to urgently collect native myrtle seed for long-term storage (seed-banking).

Local and regional councils develop management plans for managing the disease on land that they manage.

Myrtle rust is first detected in the South Island, with the Tasman region confirming two locations are infected.


Urgent research funding

July 2017

Cabinet awards $3.7 million over two years to MPI for urgent research into the myrtle rust threat to New Zealand. MPI commissions research projects based on priorities set by the SSAG to be completed mid-2019.

June 2017

Plant & Food Research and Scion receive $1.5 million over three years through the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s Catalyst Strategic Fund for a project addressing myrtle rust’s threat to New Zealand.

This project involves Plant & Food Research, Scion, Plant Health Australia, Te Turi Whakamātaki (National Maori Biosecurity Network), the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the Wellington Botanic Gardens. The project is also linked with scientists at Kew Gardens in the UK.

The Myrtle Rust Strategic Science Advisory Group (SSAG) is set up by the Ministry for Primary Industries. SSAG members include expert scientists, iwi and government representatives.

The SSAG’s first task is to identify and prioritise immediate research needs to help combat its spread.


Myrtle rust spreading rapidly

May 2017 – March 2018

Myrtle rust continues to be detected in new regions across the North Island, including the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, King Country, Auckland, Wellington, Manawatū and Tairawhiti.

With the wind-borne nature of the disease and the abundance of suitable plants that can be infected with myrtle rust in the New Zealand environment, the disease has spread rapidly and is now considered established and widespread across much of New Zealand.

May 2017

Myrtle rust is found for the first time on New Zealand’s mainland, in a Kerikeri plant nursery. The Ministry for Primary Industries immediately puts a restricted place notice in effect.

MPI staff check properties surrounding the nursery, set up field headquarters with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and consult iwi, industry and the local council. 

Several sites in the Taranaki region had confirmation of myrtle rust in commercial and private properties.

A Controlled Area Notice is imposed in Taranaki preventing movement of plant material. The nursery industry adopts protocols to try and prevent the spread.

MPI and DOC, with the help of local iwi, the nursery industry, and local authorities implement an intensive operation to attempt to contain and control myrtle rust and determine the extent of its spread.  

March 2017

Myrtle rust is detected on Kermadec pōhutukawa trees on subtropical Raoul Island, part of the Kermadec Island chain. Department of Conservation scientists make several visits to the island between March 2017 and March 2018 to set up and monitor myrtle rust. The disease is a potential threat to the pōhutukawa canopy under the right environmental conditions.

Myrtle rust around the world

Pre March 2017

Myrtle rust is first detected in Australia in 2010. Initially the Australian Government tried to contain the disease, but it quickly spread and became established along Australia’s east coast and then other parts of the country. As a result, the New Zealand Government banned imported flowers and foliage from Australian Myrtaceae family plants. Biosecurity officials began to develop a range of measures in case the disease spread to New Zealand.

Myrtle rust has rapidly spread around the world in the last 40 years and is now established as a pest in many countries, including South Africa, China, Indonesia, Hawaii, New Caledonia and Myrtle rust has rapidly spread around the world in the last 40 years, and is now established as a pest in many countries, including South Africa, China, Indonesia, Hawaii, New Caledonia and along Australia’s eastern and northern seaboard.

(Some of the earlier timeline information was sourced from sciencelearn.org.nz)