By Sandra Jack, Partnerships Ranger
Myrtle rust is an invasive fungal disease that severely attacks plants in the myrtle family including pōhutukawa, mānuka and rātā. It is thought to have blown here from the east coast of Australia where it is widespread. The spread of myrtle rust can result in the death of infected plants.
Seed collection from native plants, for long-term storage here in New Zealand, is an accepted plant conservation tool to safeguard our native plants. Seeds remain dormant until they are needed for repopulating, insuring the survival of native plant species against catastrophic loss from diseases such as myrtle rust.
The seed collection on Great Barrier Island is part of a collaborative project funded by The Royal Botanical (Kew) Gardens via the ‘The Global Tree Seed Bank Project’, supported by the Millennium Seed Bank and the Garfield Weston Foundation. Collected seeds are sent to the Indigenous Flora Seed Bank of New Zealand based in Palmerston North.
Great Barrier Island was chosen for seed collection because of the high concentration of Myrtaceae (plants of the myrtle family) in one place. The canopy of the island is made up of Myrtaceae like pōhutukawa, which are dominant elements of the landscape. It is also home to endemic kānuka and populations of Parkinson’s rātā.
Our team requested specialised botanical advice, so Bec Stanley and colleague Emma Bodley from Auckland Botanic Gardens supported the collection. Bec and Emma worked alongside our island staff, Louise and Jordan, covering 35 kilometres of tracks in three days. The team had ten target species on their list and located nine.
Working alongside Bec and Emma was really beneficial for staff to improve their plant identification knowledge, not just of the Myrtaceae species, but other native species as well. Forming and maintaining these relationships is very important for all parties involved, so we can do this important work to the highest possible standard.
This opportunity arose thanks to DOC’s partnership with the Botanic Gardens Australia New Zealand of which the Auckland Botanic Gardens is a member.
DOC formalised our partnership with the Botanic Gardens Australia New Zealand last year with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. This reflects our commitment to work together on mutually important plant conservation work, improving co-ordination, achieving more research, increasing conservation capability and working together more efficiently and effectively.