Learning to live with myrtle rust fungi

Myrtle rust infected turpentine

Yellow pustules are a tell-tale symptom of the exotic plant fungal disease myrtle rust. Photo courtesy Dr Angus Carnegie, I&I NSW

‘Please don’t take plants you suspect to be infected with myrtle rust into botanic gardens or nurseries!’


That was they key message from yesterday’s workshop at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

The 40 or so leading plant and fungal scientists attending the workshop all agreed that we need to learn to live with myrtle rust – which means containing and controlling it. We explored options for managing the outbreak which affects some of Australia’s most iconic plants, including eucalypts, bottle brush, tea tree and other members of the Myrtaceae family.

At the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, we’re developing a management strategy to protect the 65,000 native plants that showcase Australia’s floral diversity.
For a comprehensive look at the perils of myrtle rust, tune into ABC Bush Telegraph’s podcast.

If you have a plant you suspect may be infected with myrtle rust you can email a photo to us at : anbg-info@anbg.gov.au

Judy West, Australian National Botanic Gardens

4 thoughts on “Learning to live with myrtle rust fungi

  1. Myrtle Rust – it sounds innocuous, and is dismissed as such by the greater population. However, what many don’t realise is that Uredo rangelii has the potential to decimate hundreds of species of native Australian trees (many found nowhere else in the world) with potentially devastating flow-on effects on the animals that call the trees home, and on the people that rely on these tree species for industry and their livelihood.
    In the 12 months since the pathogen was first detected on a Central Coast property it has spread as far as Cairns in the north to Kiama in the south. This is a faster spread than any previous foreign plant based disease that I am aware of. The ease of transmission is astounding – spores can travel on clothes, machinery and even on the wind. Further, there is, as yet, no known treatment. This pathogen should be reported in headlines everywhere, and a widespread campaign for educating the population should be commenced urgently. I would like to call on AQIS to fast-track their development of a chemical control and resistance breeding research to slow this epidemic before it is too late.
    For further info on this subject and the work AQIS is doing, please see: http://www.daff.gov.au/aqis/quarantine/pests-diseases/myrtle-rust/myrtle-rust-qa

  2. Is there a treatment which kills this “Myrtle rust”.

    From reading the article I infer there is not. Rust spores if not removed and destroyed I believe may migrate great distances to other host plants on bees, birds and even possums.

    I believe the spoors remain viable for up to ninety days and complete a life cycle in around ten days. What apart from closing the gates to park is being done to remove the threat to our native myrtaceae plants large and small?

  3. Despite a massive effort by state and federal government agencies it has not been possible to eradicate myrtle rust. It is now inevitable that we will have to live with this plant disease and do our best to contain its spread.

    While myrtle rust has recently been detected in Lamington National Park in southern Queensland, at this point it has not had widespread and dramatic impacts on the natural environment.

    However, it is too early to tell just what sort of impact myrtle rust will have on the Australian bush. Up to this stage any research done on myrtle rust’s impact on Australian species has had to be done in overseas labs – because of quarantine regulations and we obviously couldn’t take the risk of knowingly importing it. So our knowledge about how myrtle rust will affect native species in the wild is limited.

    What we do know is that some plants appear to be more resilient to the disease than others. It tends to kill young plants. While older infected plants become ‘scrappy’ they do seem to cope better with the disease. Young, actively growing shoots are the most susceptible to myrtle rust.

    We also know that humid weather seems to favour the rust and the optimal temperature its for germination is 16–25ºC — so conditions during the past year have really favoured the spread of this pathogen. A return to more ‘normal’ Australian weather patterns could possibly halt or at least curtail the spread of this disease.

    Everyone can do their bit to help us contain the spread of this plant fungus. If you suspect you may have an infected plant you can take a photo and email us.

    Whatever you do don’t take possibly infected plants into nurseries or botanic gardens.

    Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries has good information about what you can do to help stop the spread of myrtle rust.

    Judy West, Australian National Botanic Gardens

  4. There is a chemical treatment for myrtle rust but you need a licence to buy it and so far that’s only been available to businesses like commercial nurseries. And it is very expensive.

    It is obviously not viable to spray all our bushland – and it would be counterproductive anyway as we’d also kill off the good pathogens that help keep our bushland healthy.

    State and Commonwealth agencies are working on protocols for slowing down the spread, such as targeted surveillance and quarantining of known distribution areas.

    Scientists are working on myrtle rust and its impact on Australian native species. But meanwhile we need to learn to live with the disease – and that means minimising its spread by good hygiene practices.

    Judy West, Parks Australia

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