Native Hawaiian Plant Society Hosts Talk on Native Plants and Coastal Restoration
By Akane McCann
On Friday, Feb. 26, members of the Native Hawaiian Plant Society (NHPS) and passionate members of the community gathered at the Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani to discuss native plants and coastal restoration.
Hawaii is home to a variety of beautiful native plants that make these islands so special. Unfortunately, many of these native plants are in danger of extinction. Guest speaker and executive director of the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens (MNBG), Tamara Sherrill, highlighted many efforts happening on the Hawaiian Islands to stop harmful invasive species and support native plants, birds and insects. “Local plant populations can really disappear quickly,” Sherrill said, “This is not true for just coastal species, but all native species including animal species and insects and algae.”
When the meeting began, president of NHPS, Martha Martin, shared that NHPS is a nonprofit, volunteer-run society founded in 1984. Their mission statement is to increase the survival of native Hawaiian plants. NHPS works on private and public lands, helping remove invasive species. Martin introduced guest speaker Sherrill and presented her with a beautiful green lei.
Before Sherrill began speaking, the group watched a short video about a terrifying invasive species or disease known as Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death or ROD that is spreading on the Big Island and killing off one of the most iconic trees of Hawaii, the ʻōhiʻa lehua tree. There are over 1 million ʻōhiʻa trees statewide, which are vital to Hawaiiʻs water supply.
ROD is caused by a fungus which has killed thousands of ʻōhiʻa trees. Symptoms of ROD are yellowing and browning of the tree and leaves. As of now, the disease is confined to Hawaii Island and a ban has been placed prohibiting the movement of ʻōhiʻa products interisland without a permit. ROD is not only transferred directly from ʻōhiʻa products, but can also be transferred from tools, vehicles and shoes that came in contact with infected ʻōhiʻa trees.
“It’s pretty scary,” Sherrill said. “I’m really hoping that it doesn’t come here.” Janet Allan, a MNBG board member, also expressed her concerns about ROD spreading to Maui. “The normal person who flies to Hilo usually doesn’t know they have to be careful,” she said.
Sherrill began her presentation by informing the group about MNBG. The mission statement of MNBG is to foster appreciation and understanding of Maui Nui’s plants. MNBG hosts service learning students, school activities, annual events and workshops that connect people to the traditional uses of native Hawaiian plants. NMBG has been working under a grant from Hawaii Tourism Authority to store seeds of coastal native Hawaiian plants creating a backup in case of extinction. Storing seeds also keeps the seeds viable for as long as possible while land managers deal with threats to native plants such as invasive species and grazing animals.
Sherrill highlighted organizations that are working tirelessly to save coastal ecosystems on Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Kaho‘olawe, as well as the native plants these organizations are fighting to protect. To conclude her presentation, Sherrill informed the group they can help protect Hawaii’s native plants by supporting organizations, volunteering and planting native species. “Dedicate as much of your yard as you possibly can to them,” Sherrill said. “Because you don’t know how important that will be in the end.”
For more information about Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, visit www.rapidohiadeath.org. To volunteer or learn more about the Native Hawaiian Plant Society visit www.nativehawaiianplantsociety.org. To donate, volunteer or learn more about the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens visit www.mnbg.org or see the gardens in person at 150 Kanaloa Ave. in Kahului, across from the War Memorial Stadium.