Plant killer prompts warning

YOUR unwashed hat could be spreading plant diseases and has the potential to wipe out entire orchards.

"Bushwalkers could be spreading fire blight, for example, which in 1915 destroyed several orchards in Emerald in Queensland," said Michael Danelon, nursery industry development officer for the Nursery and Garden Association NSW and ACT.

The association, which is in Rouse Hill, works with Plant Health Australia to create threat-specific contingency plans for priority exotic pests.

"Spores reside in your clothing," Mr Danelon said.

Fire blight is one of the most destructive diseases of apple and pear trees.

Blossoms wilt and die about one to two weeks after they're infected. The bacteria are moved to shoots by insects and rain, and infection occurs through wounds.

"A virus could be locked in a plant and if you cut that plant you could be spreading that virus, like when you share needles," Mr Danelon said.

Australia is fortunate to be free from many of the pests and diseases found in other countries that could harm our agriculture industries, animals, plants and environment, but grower, retailer, hobby gardener and even bushwalker hygiene are critical to maintaining effective biosecurity.

"Dirty clothes may carry pathogens [or infectious agents colloquially known as germs] or pests and boots may carry soil-borne pathogenic spores," Mr Danelon said.

He said it was also critical to ensure that plants were well pruned, well spaced and grown in good light conditions.

A fungal plant pathogen known as Myrtle rust (Uredo rangelii) is among 12 exotic pests or diseases for which Australia has a specific contingency plan. It is a new plant disease that has the potential to devastate Australia's native forests.

It can spread rapidly through the wind, on contaminated plants, equipment, clothing and animals, and potentially affect more than 1000 species of plants in the Myrtaceae family including Australian natives.

Businesses can be fined $7042 for selling plants they are reasonably expected to know are infected with Myrtle rust. But the general public must also report their concerns about plant pests and diseases.

■ The Australian Plant Pest Database is an online database of pests and diseases of Australia’s economically important plants: planthealthaustralia.com.au/resources/

■ Exotic Plant Pest Hotline: 1800 084 881.

■ What pests have you noticed in your garden lately? 

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