A couple at the epicentre of mainland New Zealand's first confirmed case of the plant disease myrtle rust have described the heartbreak of having much of their stock and hard work destroyed.

However, almost a month later the disease appears to have been nipped in the bud - in Northland at least - and Kerikeri Plant Production owners Julia Colgan and Tom Lindesay are holding an open day tomorrow to celebrate their reopening.

An eagle-eyed employee spotted the rust on a young pohutukawa on May 2.

She told Mr Lindesay who knew immediately what it was and alerted the Ministry for Primary Industries.


The next morning two plant pathologists arrived in white suits, took samples and raced back to the lab in Auckland.

"And then the army came," Mr Lindesay said.

MPI workers sprayed everything at the nursery, twice, and inspected every property within 500m.

They destroyed all plants at the nursery in the Myrtacae family, including pohutukawa, feijoa, eucalypts and manuka, their biggest seller.

Even their Bartlett's rata, of which only 14 survive in the wild, weren't spared.

Staff were sent home but the owners were allowed in to keep the remaining plants alive, as long as they wore new contamination suits each day.

The destruction of so many plants was heartbreaking, Mr Lindesay said.

"We weren't here when they did it, it would've been too hard. The plants were just lovely, and we'd spent so many hot summer days looking after them."


However, Ms Colgan said MPI had been efficient, treated them well and kept them informed with personal contact almost daily.

They had been assured they would be compensated.

The couple, who have owned the business for 22 years, had taken a financial hit through the loss of plants and cutting stock and being unable to trade for more than three weeks.

They re-opened on Monday but are still unable to sell plants from the Myrtacae family. Staff had been paid throughout but found being unable to work frustrating.

"But if this operation has nipped it in the bud in Northland, that would make it worthwhile, or at least easier to come to terms with," she said.

Most customers had been hugely supportive, which was one of the benefits of living in a small community.

The open day, with tea and information on myrtle rust provided, will run from 10am-5pm at the Riddell Rd nursery.

Only two other cases of rust have been found in Northland to date, on a ramarama tree in a neighbouring property and in a garden in Taheke. In Taranaki, however, the situation is grim with 24 cases found in plant nurseries, gardens, an orchard and a golf course. That includes a pohutukawa hedge which has been destroyed.