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Research update

Using mātauranga Māori to fight kauri dieback disease

24 Nov 2019

Ecologically and culturally precious kauri forests in the North Island, including some 1000+ year old trees, have been devastated by kauri dieback disease. Currently, phosphite is the only treatment but it has limitations and there is an urgent need to discover and develop other compounds to fight the disease.

Plant & Food Research scientists are contributing to a study, led by Victoria University Wellington, which explores mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) from the Ngapuhi Iwi in Northland, seeking to identify native plants that might contain kauri dieback fighting compounds. 

Based on Ngapuhi knowledge of which plants establish and maintain the health of kauri forests, four plants were identified for screening. The scientists discovered that one of the four plants, kānuka (Kunzea robusta), an effective nurse tree for young kauri, reduces the movement of infectious spores in kauri dieback disease. 

While the kānuka extracts were found to reduce movement in disease spores, they were shown to be less effective against disease growth in infected trees. This means the extract is most likely to be useful in prevention measures, for example with possible companion planting. 

The research was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

Journal Reference

Lawrence S, Burgess E, Pairama C, Black A, Patrick W, Mitchell I, Perry N, Gerth, M 2019 Mātauranga-guided screening of New Zealand native plants reveals flavonoids from kānuka (Kunzea robusta) with anti-Phytophtora activity. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 49


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