Keeping Hawaiian culture alive and thriving consists of many components. Our belief systems are deeply and intricately intertwined with each and every living thing, and all must flow in harmony. One element that simply cannot go unnoticed here are native Hawaiian plants. Native Hawaiian plants are key elements in so many ways. From spiritual views to storytelling through dance, poetry and song, native Hawaiian plants are represented as healing modalities, foods, and even expressed as components of gods and demi-gods. Hawaiian stories and songs are filled with references of the beauty of native Hawaiian flora. Many of the mythology and analogies of native Hawaiian culture are represented by native Hawaiian plants. Thankfully, there are kanaka ʻōiwi here to tend to, nurture, and allow native plants to thrive. This haumana highlight features 22 year old Kiana Keyser, a native plant propagator and microscopist.
Kiana Keyser has always been intrigued by native plants. Firstly, her father grows native plants for all kinds of organizations that re-forest them. The plant nursery is called Maui Native Nursery (Mauinativenursery.com) and is located in Kula, a place where native plants are grown and maintained until ready to be re-planted across the island. One could describe her as deeply rooted in native plant culture. Then, in high school she began to experiment with microscopes for school projects and discovered a love for microscopy. She began microscopically exploring plankton, algae, and coral and found she was always drawn to the native plants most.
Kiana is focused on sharpening her microscope and science skills, but admits the artistic aspect and the beauty of the plant life at a microscopic level is just as intriguing. She entered a few amazing photos of Limu under a microscope into UHMC’s planner cover art contest, and UHMC’s Na Leo Literary Review was intrigued. Her microscopic photography was published here (http://maui.hawaii.edu/naleo/2022/05/16/18385.)
Kiana says she is fresh on her educational journey and doesn’t yet have any particular plan in place. What she does know is that she loves to work with native Hawaiian flora in any way she can. She considers herself a native plant propagator, and whether on sea or land, native plants are at her core. Kiana intends to replenish, propagate, and perpetuate native Hawaiian ways of planting, earthing and flowing with our ecosystem. She would love to find a specific kind of mentor who can guide her microbiology pursuits while also making those connections in ‘ōlelo and cultural concepts.
“They work hand in hand, the culture and the ecosystem. It’s so unique here and it’s something that we really need to take care of. The culture being malama ‘āina, there’s specific ways to do it that aren’t being done. I think it’s important to focus on the cultural aspects of biological science. I think having a context of how the eco systems all work together is important for Hawaii to flourish. For people, the land, to the akua. The culture can get pushed aside sometimes and it is important to keep it all in line. I would love to raise awareness about native plants so that people can see what belongs there. This is the only place you can experience the true flow of native Hawaiian plants, in Hawaii. It’s better for the soil, the air, the people, the animals. It belongs there, it just makes sense.”-Kiana Keyser, 22
Kiana accredits her father who has always pushed her to combine doing what she loves with taking up her kuleana. He has inspired her to work hard, follow her interest and be effective. She hopes that Hawaii residents will seek to become more educated on native plants, and choose native plants to display on their front lawns instead of non-native ones.
Find more of Kianas microscopic native photography here http://maui.hawaii.edu/naleo/2022/05/16/18385/.