16 Aug 2017

Hawai'i tree disease could spread across Pacific

8:24 pm on 16 August 2017

There are fears the disease wiping out Hawai'i's native ōhi'a tree could spread throughout the Pacific.

Staining typical of the disease rapid ōhi'a death.

Staining typical of the disease rapid ōhi'a death. Photo: Supplied / JB Friday

The fungal disease known as Rapid 'Ōhiʻa Death was first discovered in 2014 and has affected about 75,000 acres of ōhi'a forrests on the island of Hawai'i.

The fungus behind the plant disease, Ceratocystis fimbriata, lives in the soil and causes leaves to turn black and fall off, killing a tree within in a matter of days.

The University of Hawai'i said that while some feral animals and beetles had been vectors for the disease, human movement was the biggest cause of its spread.

It is feared the disease could be carried across the Pacific infecting other trees in the same plant family as the ōhi'a.

Rapid 'Ōhiʻa Death is already believed to have spread to Tahiti where large numbers of native metrosideros have suddenly died.

New Zealand's Pohutukawa trees, which are famous for their bright red flowers, could also be at risk.