What is Cinnamon Fungus?
Cinnamon Fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi) is a microscopic, soil borne pathogen (disease causing organism) that attacks and destroys plant root systems causing plants to die through lack of water and nutrients. Patches of dead or dying vegetation can indicate the presence of this silent killer and grass trees are particularly susceptible. It is spread through infected plants and the movement of contaminated soil and gravel, and there is no known cure.
Cinnamon Fungus or Dieback is an exotic disease of our forests affecting over 900 species of native plants including banksias, blackboys, zamia palms, snottygobbles, emu bushes, sheoaks, hakeas, dryandras, heaths and jarrah.
The term ‘dieback’ refers to a suite of soil- and water-borne fungal diseases that is associated with ‘damping-off’ in seedlings, various Phytophthora spp, Pythium (also a ‘chromist’) and Fusarium (a true fungus).
As the fungus thrives in warm, moist conditions the south coast is particularly at risk. Some of the more susceptible plants are rare, endangered or restricted in distribution.
Dieback is not just a problem for native plants; it is also having a detrimental effect on nectar-eating creatures (e.g. honey possums and honeyeaters). It may take from 3 to 10 years before visible signs of the disease (e.g. dead leaves) develop.
Can Cinnamon Fungus be spread by hikers?
Phytophthora cinnamomi can be spread by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts if they inadvertently carry contaminated soil or plant material from one area to another. The pathogen can persist in soil and plant debris, and when people walk, hike, or use equipment in areas where the pathogen is present, they can pick up contaminated material on their shoes, clothing, or gear. If they then visit other areas and do not properly clean their equipment or footwear, they can introduce the pathogen to new locations.
To help prevent the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi and other plant pathogens as a hiker or outdoor enthusiast, consider the following precautions:
1. Clean Your Footwear: Before leaving an area where the pathogen is known to be present, thoroughly clean your hiking boots or shoes to remove soil and debris. Scrubbing the soles of your footwear and rinsing them with water can help reduce the risk of carrying the pathogen to new locations.
2. Avoid Muddy Trails: When hiking in areas where Phytophthora cinnamomi is a concern, try to avoid muddy or wet trails, as these are more likely to contain the pathogen. Stick to established paths and trails whenever possible.
3. Clean and Disinfect Equipment: If you use equipment such as hiking poles or camping gear in areas with the pathogen, clean and disinfect these items before using them in other locations. Using a disinfectant solution or wiping down surfaces can help kill any potential pathogens.
4. Be Informed: Familiarize yourself with the specific recommendations and regulations in the areas you visit. Some parks or natural reserves may have guidelines in place to prevent the spread of plant pathogens.
By taking these precautions, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts can help reduce the risk of spreading Cinamon Fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi) and other plant pathogens to new areas, thereby protecting natural ecosystems and plant communities.
Dieback code of conduct
By following the following code of conduct you can help to minimise the impact of your activities on the resource that provides us with so much pleasure. Please adopt the following practices when venturing into dieback affected areas:
- Be clean on entry and exit. Vehicles, tyres, machinery, footwear, tent pegs and camping gear should be free of soil, gravel and mud prior to entering or leaving any park, reserve or campsite (particularly in high risk areas). Don’t bring soil or gravel in – and don’t take any home!
- Where available, use boot cleaning stations and vehicle wash down bays – they are there for a reason.
- Remain on formed roads, tracks and pathways at all times. Moving from infected to uninfected areas can spread the pathogen – particularly during wet weather when soils are wet and sticky.
- Obey all track and road closure signs. Do not enter areas of vegetation that have been quarantined.
- Avoid travelling through areas infected with Phytophthora. If in doubt – ask! Call Parks Victoria on 13 1963.
- Do not remove plants or plant material from parks and reserves – they are protected by law.
- Take heed of signs alerting of the presence of dieback fungi.
- Leaders to contact the local Park Ranger for up-to-date local knowledge and redirect the walk to keep out of, or go around, dieback infected areas.
- Avoid wet and muddy areas at all times. Be prepared to change the route of the walk during or after warm, wet weather. If muddy areas cannot be avoided, remove the mud from your boots before moving onto dry or higher ground.
For further information on dieback, google ‘dieback’ in your state or territory.
Photo by Kate Wilson