Monday, June 18, 2001

In the Waianae Mountain Range recently, Trae Menard was on the
lookout for rare plant seeds. He was successful, spotting the Delissea
subcordata, or oha, one of only two known plants remaining in the
wild, one each in the Honouliuli and the Pahole preserves. Hawaiians
ate the fruit and greens of this tree and used the sticky sap as glue to catch birds.


A Little
Growing Room

The Nature Conservancy plans
to fence land in Honouliuli to
save native plants and animals

By Diana Leone

YOU might think strawberry guava, roseapple trees and ginger are native plants because they grow wild.

They're not.

In fact, these plants are some of the biggest enemies of Hawaii's true native plants -- the ones here before any people.

On the eastern slope of the Waianae Mountains, the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii is fencing in 108 acres of native forest to preserve native plants, birds and snails that might otherwise become extinct.

"A lot of people, when they think of endangered species, think of animals. But bugs and plants are the fundamental base of an ecosystem, and everything is connected," said Trae Menard as he gave a tour last week of the area to be fenced.

"The elepaio is a charismatic bird we are trying to save, but there is a whole series of elements we have to work with to save it -- including these plants."

The Kaluaa Gulch portion of the organization's 3,700-acre Honouliuli Preserve was chosen for its "exclosure" project because it has a high density of rare and endangered native plants.

Like the lama tree, with an ebony-colored wood and fruits similar to persimmons. Or the haha, several species of tree with a sticky sap used by early Hawaiians as a glue to catch birds.

And just because people don't catch birds these days with tree sap is no reason not to preserve these species, said Menard, the Nature Conservancy's natural resources manager for Oahu.

"How do we know it doesn't do anything?" Menard asked as he tromped up and down trails to show the special plants. "It may have the genetic code that's really useful for agriculture or medicine. The idea is, you don't want to say goodbye to them, because you don't know how valuable they really are."

The Nature Conservancy is building fences and planting rare
Hawaiian plants in the Waianae Mountain Range. Lance La Pierre, left,
recently put up new signs to alert people to the proposed fenced area
in Kaluaa Gulch in Honouliuli.

Hawaii has the highest percentage of unique species of any place in the world. One-third of the plants and birds on the U.S. endangered species list are in Hawaii.

And experts have decided if they want to preserve any of it, they'll need to have some areas that keep out the plants' No. 1 enemies: feral pigs.

Even then, just a fence won't do it.

"In most parts of the world, you can say, 'This is a preserve,' and you don't have to do much," said Sam Gon III, the Hawaii Conservancy's director of science. "In Hawaii, if you put up a fence and walk away and come back in 10 years, it would be a weed patch with very few native plants left."

After fencing pigs out, you still have to control rats and tend the stands of native plants like a garden.

It's not that pigs are "bad" or native plants are "weak," said native Hawaiian ethnoconservationist Nani Anderson-Wong. It is simply that Hawaii's native plants developed without hoofed mammals like pigs, goats, sheep and cows around and don't have defenses to spring back after they are grazed over and uprooted.

Several of the plant species the Nature Conservancy plans to fence are literally the last of their kind.

Among the good ...

... and the bad

Alahee: A very hard wood used for weapons, such as spears, and also for the Hawaiian plow, the oo stick.

Strawberry guava: These plants spread rapidly and crowd out other plants. Pigs love its edible fruit.

Schiedea kaalae plant seed: The Nature Conservancy planted several of this very rare plant in hopes of bringing it from the brink of extinction.

Pig tracks: Trae Menard shows where a pig dug holes, uprooting plants.

Hapuu fern: An abundance of this fern is a sign of natural, undisturbed growth in a native forest. Pigs love to eat them.

Christmas berry (Schinus terebinthifolius): A very fast-growing tree that hogs space and drives out other plants.

Papala kepau: Hawaiians used its sticky seed pods to catch birds.

Koster's curse (Clidemia hirta): An aggressive plant with purple berries in the same family as miconia.

The 108-acre Kaluaa Gulch area is the second and largest area the conservancy has fenced on Oahu. Clearing began recently, and the goal for fence completion is December. The federal government contributed $93,000; the conservancy will chip in another $57,000 to complete the job.

Volunteers will be used on the less technical parts of the fence, and professionals will handle the steep spots.

After the fence is up, Menard and crew will systematically remove invasive plants and replace them with native plants grown in a nursery.

Over time, the conservancy may fence sections of its three other "priority management areas" -- those with the highest density of special plants.

"Many people don't understand how bad the situation is," Anderson-Wong said, including some pig hunters who insist on their "native right" to hunt pig.

"It's some hunters' position that there aren't as many pigs as there used to be, and they are losing (hunting) areas as they are being fenced," said Marjorie Ziegler, EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund resource analyst. "But they've still got hundreds of thousands of acres of lands to hunt on."

But Menard said when the fence was announced at a recent Oahu Pig Hunters Association meeting, there was no protest.

Pig hunter Richard Delima said, "That area that they're fencing in is one of the best hunting areas, but if it's for a good cause, then OK." Delima, who hunts mainly in the Koolaus, said he doesn't mind saving some plants but doesn't want to see anyone "fence up the whole mountain."


These are some of the many native plants conservationists hope to preserve for future generations. Plants marked with an asterisk (*) are endangered.
* 'Oha (Delissea subcordata): There are only two known plants remaining in the wild, one each in Honouliuli and Pahole preserves. Hawaiians ate the fruit and the greens of this tree and used the sticky sap as glue to catch birds.
* Haha (Cyanea pinnatifida): Near extinction. The Nature Conservancy is trying to propagate offspring from the one known wild plant.
Papala kepau: Hawaiians used its sticky fruit to catch birds.
Papala: Has a light, almost balsalike wood, which burns with a lot of sparks. Hawaiians played this game on the Na Pali coast of Kauai: People on the cliffs would light spears of the wood and throw them out over the water. As the spears floated down to the sea, they sent off sparks like fireworks. Players below in canoes would try to retrieve the spears.
Mamaki (Pipturus albidus): A medicinal plant, used in modern times as a tea.
Alaa (Pouteria sandwicensis): Wood was used for common uses such as house-building, and its sticky sap was used for bird glue.
Alahee: A hard wood used for weapons, such as spears, and also for the Hawaiian plow, the oo stick. The name refers to the sweet fragrance of the small, white blossoms, which go (ala) smoothly (hee) around one as a squid maneuvers in the water -- hence the plant's name.
Kopico: Has little holes on the underside of its leaves. Its yellow wood was used as crossbeams in a house (to honor the god Kane) and for the gunnels of voyaging canoes.
Lama (Hawaiian ebony, Diospyros sandwicensis): Significant offering on the hula altar. Lama signifies light or enlightenment. Its edible fruit is like a persimmon. The plant's name appears in a number of place names, including Kapalama on Oahu.
Hame: A good stabilizing tree for native forests. Its close-grained, hard, reddish-brown wood was used by Hawaiians as anvils on which to beat olona, strong cord, to divide it into smaller pieces. Its berries were used to dye chiefs' malo (loincloths) a bright red color.


If you are trying to preserve native species, you do not want these around.
Strawberry guava: These plants spread rapidly and crowd out other plants. Pigs love the edible fruit.
Christmas berry (Schinus terebinthifolius): A fast-growing tree that hogs space.
Koster's curse (Clidemia hirta): An aggressive plant with purple berries in the same family as miconia.
Thimbleberry: A transplant from Vietnam, the thimbleberry grew rapidly in Hawaii after the Vietnam War.
Roseapple: A relation of the mountain apple, its creamy white fruit is edible.
Ginger: The lovely flower that people associate with Hawaii is a pest if you are trying to preserve natives.

Sources: Nature Conservancy's Sam Gon III, director of science, and Trae Menard, Oahu program natural resources manager

The Nature Conservancy's Kaluaa Gulch project can use a few good volunteers. Jobs include clearing land for fencing, building fences, propagating native plants, clearing out pest plants and hunting for pigs. Call Nat Pak or Trae Menard at 621-2008.

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