News & Media

Protecting native plants from killer fungus

Released on

Released on:
Friday, 19. April 2013 - 10:00

Some of Western Australia’s most iconic native plants will be under the spotlight during workshops in May to try and protect them from a virulent fungus moving through eastern Australia.

Myrtle rust was discovered in New South Wales in 2010 and has since infected more than 200 native species in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria including bottlebrushes, tea-trees, paperbarks, peppermints and some eucalypts.

The Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) is coordinating a defence plan on behalf of Western Australians and the workshops are part of that.

The Department’s forest science manager Ian Dumbrell said myrtle rust was having a devastating effect in the east.

DAFWA is working closely with the Department of Environment and Conservation, Forest Products Commission and the WA Local Government Association to be able to respond rapidly to reported infestations.

“Myrtle rust has the potential to weaken or kill plants in the Myrtaceae family, and we have more than 1200 local species at risk,” he said.

“These unique and often very attractive plants grow throughout the State in native bush and are also cultivated widely in our parks, streets and gardens.

“Infection with myrtle rust could mean the loss of many species, or at least impose a major cost to land managers in treatment.

“It could have dire consequences for our timber industry, tourism, and survival of some native animals such as the Western ringtail possum whose main habitat is the WA peppermint, which is highly susceptible.”

Mr Dumbrell said spores of myrtle rust were spread very easily by wind, as well as the movement of people and vehicles.

“People inadvertently carrying spores on their clothing or in their vehicles following visits to infested areas in eastern Australia are our greatest threat,” he said.

“The public has a significant role to play in being aware of and keeping a lookout for myrtle rust and reporting signs to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.”

The four myrtle rust workshops will cover its recognition, reporting and management. They will be held in Perth on Monday and Friday 20 and 24 May, Bunbury on Tuesday 21 May and Albany on Wednesday 22 May.

The events are being organised by the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Forest Products Commission and the Australian Network for Plant Conservation Inc.

Organisers are hoping that representatives of local government, the nursery industry, timber industry, landcare, bushcare, other groups and interested individuals will attend.

One of Australia’s leading myrtle rust authorities, Bob Makinson from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney will lead discussions.

Lunch and teas are provided and participants will receive about 120 pages of notes. Prior registration is essential by Monday 13 May via the ANPC website at


Media contact:  Jodie Thomson, media liaison          +61 (0)8 9368 3937