New Rule Restricts Import of Myrtle Family Plants to Help Protect ʻŌhiʻa

May 9, 2020, 12:46 PM HST · Updated May 9, 12:46 PM
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PC: Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Gov. David Ige has approved an amendment to the Hawai`i Administrative Rules that restricts the importation of plants, plant parts and seeds in the myrtle (Myrtaceae) family, including some that are commonly used in floral arrangements. The rule amendment becomes effective on May 15, 2020 and was established to prevent the introduction of new strains of a fungus and other pests and diseases that threaten ʻōhiʻa trees, native forests and watersheds, and also horticultural and agricultural industries.

The primary threat is a fungus, Puccinia (Austropuccinia) psidii, commonly known as ʻōhiʻa rust or guava rust that infects plants in the Myrtaceae family, including a wide range of plants such as guava, eucalyptus, and ʻōhiʻa. The new rule amendment also prohibits the import of Myrtaceae plant parts that are commonly used in the floral, nursery, landscaping and food industries include wax flower, myrtle, bottle brush, allspice, and clove. Processed allspice and cloves are not affected by this rule. Further, the rule only applies to the importation of Myrtaceae and does not affect the status of plants already in the state.

“The department realizes that this new rule has a considerable impact on some in the floral industry, and we have tried to give the industry as much lead time as possible to find alternatives to importing these particular plants,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture.

“We hope the industry will see an opportunity to grow and source flowers and foliage from within the state to help decrease the risk of importing other plant pests and pathogens.”

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The new rule amendment authorizes the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch (PQB) to prohibit the introduction of any Myrtaceae plant, plant part, or seed into Hawai`i except:

  1. Dried, non-living plant materials;
  2. Seeds, with no other plant fragments, that have been surface sterilized using a treatment approved by the PQB chief;
  3. Tissue cultured plants grown in sterile media and in a completely enclosed sterile glass flask or other similar container; or
  4. By approved permit.

If Myrtaceae plants, plant parts, or seeds are shipped to Hawai`i and do not fall within the four exceptions previously listed, the entire shipment may be delayed, quarantined, destroyed, or returned to place of origin at the expense of the owner or importer.

A full list of plants in the Myrtaceae family may be viewed here.

Prior to the governor’s approval, public hearings were held statewide and the rule amendment was approved by the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture. Notices were sent to shippers and importers in October 2019 to advise them of the pending new rule amendment.

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