Lismore Garden Centre owner David Manby checks spotted gums for signs of Myrtle rust.
Lismore Garden Centre owner David Manby checks spotted gums for signs of Myrtle rust. Cathy Adams

Gardeners face plant shortages

NORTHERN Rivers gardeners may soon find a shortage of popular plants, such as lilly pillies, with some wholesale growers already withdrawing them from their stock lines in fear of the spread of Myrtle rust disease.

David Manby, who owns the Lismore Garden Centre, knows all about the risk of diseases.

Long before anyone in Australia had heard of Myrtle rust, he and his staff inspected each plant in the nursery every morning for other types of pest.

“It is one of the reasons that we only source our plants from local wholesale nurseries, so that we don’t import diseases,” he said.

“Unfortunately, as many in the industry knows, it’s been spread by the large chain stores who have no nursery people and get their plants from around the country.”

Industry and Investment NSW yesterday confirmed it was investigating “a number” of new outbreaks of Myrtle rust in the Northern Rivers, after confirming three outbreaks earlier this week at wholesale nurseries in Alstonville and Byron Bay, and a street location in Lismore.

“This is not going to just affect the tea tree industry and nurseries. It is going to effect koala trees and the native environment,” Mr Manby said. “It’s the cane toad all over again.”

He urged plant buyers to only buy from reputable nurseries.

CSIRO plant pathologist Louise Morin, who is researching Myrtle rust, said the vast majority of the 100 native plant species tested so far were susceptible to the disease in a laboratory but how they would react outside is unknown.

“But in some species it was fairly limited so there is a lot of variation of what we are seeing,” she said. “The key thing we are finding is that this rust only affects young foliage.”

Still, Dr Morin said she had never seen a single plant killed by the rust in the laboratory and urged people to remain calm.

“It may be like pruning a plant where the plant grows better afterwards,” she said. “This may not be as dire as some people are saying, and they may learn to live with it.”



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