Saturday, May 28, 2005

Euphence Fleming Vockrodt and her daughter Martha Vockrodt-Moran stand next to an alani tree, the last healthy native species of its kind on Maui.

Seeds of hope

Plantings on Maui seek to boost
numbers of the endangered alani

ULUPALAKUA, Maui » Walking on a grassy trail in the Puu Mahoe cinder cone on Haleakala, Martha Vockrodt-Moran points out the last remaining healthy native plant of its kind on Maui: a 52-year-old alani tree raised by her grandfather D.T. Fleming.

For tours

Tours of the D.T. Fleming Arboretum are available on the last weekend of each month. E-mail Martha Vockrodt-Moran at info@flemingarboretum.org.

To help the Auwahi Restoration Group, call Erica Von Allmen or Art Medeiros at 808-572-4471, or e-mail auwahi@yahoo.com.

Scientists say its seeds are the only hope for the continuation of the species on the Valley Isle.

Fleming descendants and supporters will plant the seedlings from the tree in the wild dry-land forest at Auwahi on the leeward slopes of Haleakala today in hopes of increasing its numbers.

Once prolific among Maui's dry-land forest, the alani, whose scientific name is Melicope knudsenii, has been teetering on the verge of extinction, going from 20 trees in the 1980s to two on the Valley Isle today, scientists say.

Of the two plants on Maui, one in the Auwahi area is unhealthy, and the other, in the D.T. Fleming Arboretum in Ulupalakua, is the only viable species giving seeds.

The planting of the alani seedlings came about through efforts of a number of groups and individuals, including Friends of the D.T. Fleming Arboretum at Puu Mahoe Inc. and research biologist Art Medeiros.

"The alani species was down on her knees with no one to help her. I never thought we would get to this day," said Medeiros, who works with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Medeiros said the alani planting is a milestone in Hawaii's conservation efforts and symbolizes what people can do when they "put our heads and hearts together."

The tree, whose leaves are used by native Hawaiians as an oil fragrance, grows up to 40 feet tall.

As the alani's verdant leaves develop, they uncurl to reveal shiny leathery tops and velvety undersides.

When the tree blossoms, clusters of flowers hanging like popcorn balls on its twisting branches change from light green to ivory before dropping to expose its lime-colored seed pockets, known as a carpel.

Vockrodt-Moran said she is happy the D.T. Fleming Arboretum, founded by her grandfather, was able to contribute to the perpetuation of a native species.

D.T Fleming, a water management specialist and agronomist, managed the Honolua Ranch in West Maui and helped to diversity the business by adding pineapple to its operations in 1912, she said.

Ulupalakua Ranch owner Edward Baldwin gave 18 acres to Fleming, who used a portion of it to establish the arboretum.

"Baldwin gave the land to Grandfather for introducing a wasp to parasitize the pamakani weed that was inundating the ranch's grazing lands and sickening the horses," said Vockrodt-Moran, president of the arboretum.

She described her grandfather as an "agricultural missionary," introducing new species such as the lychee and Hayden mango and also preserving native plants.

"Papa's pockets were always full of seeds," she said.

The arboretum houses 170 native plant species, including 33 on the federal endangered list.

The Auwahi Restoration Group, which includes landowners, scientists and environmentalists, was established in the late 1990s to help to restore the native forest on the Leeward side of Haleakala.

Medeiros, an official with the group, said only 4 percent of the native dry-land forest remains on Maui. Much of it was destroyed by cattle and invasive plants, such as the tropical African pasture grass kikuyu.

Fleming's daughter Euphence Fleming Vockrodt and her late husband Jack, who cared for the arboretum after her father's death in 1955, remembers conservation work was a part of her family activity.

"We would pack up the children and drive from Lahaina to Ulupalakula every weekend and work in the arboretum," said Vockrodt, 93, who along with her husband received a 2001 Historic Preservation Award from the Historic Hawai'i Foundation.

Medeiros praised Vockrodt-Moran and her husband, David, for passing on the alani seeds to state nursery official Richard Nakagawa and growers Dan Judson and Anna Palomino, who raised them to seedlings.

"The efforts stemming from the Fleming family are leaving an invaluable gift for the forest and people of Hawaii," Medeiros said.

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