Banana freckle

Banana freckle is a disease of banana leaves and fruit. This particular disease is caused by the Phyllosticta cavendishii fungus.

There is no risk to food safety or human health from eating bananas infected with this disease.

Current situation

The Northern Territory government is responding to a new detection of Banana freckle.

On 23 May 2022 banana Dwarf Cavendish fruit from a property in the Batchelor-Rum Jungle area was tested at Berrimah Agricultural Laboratory, with the disease confirmed as banana freckle (Phyllosticta cavandishii). A second sample was sent to the Australian Centre for Genomic Analysis in Queensland which provided confirmation of the disease on 2 June.

The affected tree was planted in 2019 as a leafless sucker that had been sourced locally.

The infected premises has been placed under a quarantine order by the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. Biosecurity officers have started inspecting nearby banana plants, including those on the property the sucker was sourced from.

Response activities

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests met on Friday 3 June 2022 to consider the national response activities. The committee agreed that at this stage the disease is technically feasible to eradicate. 

A response plan will be developed for consideration by the National Management Group that takes a phased approach based on removing infected plants; tracing and surveillance; compliance; and community engagement.

The NT Government is working closely with key industries and farming groups, as well as Commonwealth, state and territory governments through the national response arrangements. 

Movement restrictions

Following confirmation of the disease, some states including Western Australia and Queensland, have restrictions in place that prohibits banana fruit and/or banana plant material being brought in from the Northern Territory. Growers should check requirements before sending fruit out of the Northern Territory.

Travellers

While there are quarantine checkpoints at some state borders, travellers should not take banana fruit, the peel or banana plant material out of the area from which it was purchased.

See more on the Australian Interstate Quarantine website.

Biosecurity and reporting

This new detection reiterates the need for banana growers, householders and banana production nurseries, especially in northern Australia, to check their banana plants regularly and report any signs of disease. Simply call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Reporting any sick or dying plants is critical to help minimise impacts on businesses and the community.

What to look for

Banana freckle appears as dark raised spots and feels like fine sandpaper on the leaves or fruit. On fruit, individual spots first appear as minute, reddish-brown flecks surrounded by a halo of dark-green, water-soaked tissue.

Banana freckle on fruit. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana freckle on fruit. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana leaf heavily infected. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana leaf heavily infected. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana plant infected with Banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.
Banana plant infected with Banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.
Banana leaf infected with banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.
Banana leaf infected with banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.

About banana freckle

Banana freckle is a pest of banana leaves and fruit caused by a fungal pathogen. Affected bananas are safe to eat but blemishes on the skin reduce their visual appeal and saleability. Banana freckle reduces the productivity of banana plants.

The fungus Phyllosticta cavendishii which infects Cavendish and non-Cavendish bananas and is not considered established in Australia.

Banana freckle has been recorded in 27 countries across South-east Asia, Oceania and India.

Previous banana freckle outbreak

A large four-phase banana freckle eradication program occurred between 2013-2019 in the Northern Territory. This response was cost-shared under national arrangements by Australian Banana industry, several state and territory governments, the Commonwealth and the nursery industry.

43,589 properties engaged with the NT-wide surveillance program in phase 1, with over 500,000 banana plants destroyed on 9,500 properties. Banana freckle was detected and treated on 260 properties.

The disease was successfully eradicated with proof of freedom declared on 1 February 2019.

The previous response to banana freckle in the NT was a four-phase program. The first phase involved destruction of host material; the second required a host-free period of at least six months, including a full wet season. During the third phase sentinel disease-free banana plants were monitored for the disease; and proof of freedom occurred in phase four.

More information about banana freckle

NT Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism

Plant Health Australia