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Two of our major environmental pests, cane toads and fire ants, originate in South America and unfortunately another is to be added to this list – myrtle rust.

Myrtle rust (Uredo rangelii) is a type of fungus; it is a serious pathogen that affects plants in the Myrtaceae family, including iconic Australian native species such as lily pillies, bottlebrush, tea tree and eucalypts. The disease presents a risk of significant damage to the natural environment, Australia has approximately 2,253 native species of plants belonging to the family Myrtaceae (about 10% of Australia’s native flora). This plant family is an important and often dominant section of many Australian ecological communities including eucalypt-dominated forest and woodland, rainforests, shrublands, and heaths.

The disease also has the potential to damage a wide range of commercial plant industries, private gardens and community parks and gardens.

The list of known host plants stands at 36 but it is likely to increase as the fungus spreads.

The fungus was first identified in April 2010 in a flower and foliage producer in NSW; it has now been detected in Brisbane and other areas of South East Qld. The disease has been found in bushland, nurseries, gardens and bush food producers.

The spores of myrtle rust spread easily; they can be carried on the wind or transferred by insects, birds and animals. Human activity can also facilitate the spread through the movement of infected plant materials, contaminated vehicles, contaminated transport and packaging and fungal spores attaching to people’s clothes, shoes, tools and equipment.

Due to myrtle rust’s existing distribution, and the ease and speed of dispersal it has been nationally agreed that it is already impossible to eradicate this disease from Australia. Action by government agencies such as Biosecurity Qld will concentrate on containment by locating, removing and treating infected plants and other control methods deemed appropriate.

The first signs of myrtle rust infection are tiny raised spots or pustules, after a few days these spots become lesions which are filled, usually with bright yellow or orange yellow spores, and occasionally with dark brown spores. The lesions may appear on leaves, shoots, buds, flowers and fruit. As the disease progresses leaves may buckle and twist, new growth dies, defoliation occurs, the growth habit becomes stunted and distorted and finally the plant may die. Scientific studies and observations indicate that plants can vary greatly in their susceptibility or resistance to the disease.

The disease does not appear to be harmful to humans and animals.

If you suspect that you may have infected plants on your property, or you have observed infected plants in a park or bushland do not under any circumstances move or dispose of the plant. Try to avoid contamination and please immediately contact Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

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Why does attentiveness to nature matter? In a very fundamental sense, we are what we pay attention to. Paying heed to beauty, grace, and everyday miracles promotes a sense of possibility and coherence that runs deeper and truer than the often illusory commercial, social "realities" advanced by mainstream contemporary culture. ... Our attention is precious, and what we choose to focus it on has enormous consequences. What we choose to look at, and to listen to--these choices change the world. As Thich Nhat Hanh has pointed out, we become the bad television programs that we watch. A society that expends its energies tracking the latest doings of the celebrity couple is fundamentally distinct from one that watches for the first arriving spring migrant birds, or takes a weekend to check out insects in a mountain stream, or looks inside flowers to admire the marvelous ingenuities involved in pollination. The former tends to drag culture down to its lowest commonalities; the latter can lift us up in a sense of unity with all life. The Way of Natural History, edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner and published by Trinity University Press (Texas)