JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
A non-native wasp was an unwelcome visitor in one of the many containers of Christmas trees inspected yesterday.
Holiday trees are checked for pests
An aggressive type of wasp is among the critters found in Matson containers
Two Matson Navigation Co. workers grabbed a fir tree from a shipping container and pounded the trunk against the ground repeatedly until pine needles and small branches fell on a cloth canvas.
And so did unwanted hitchhikers, including spiders, slugs and, in a couple of cases, angry wasps.
Department of Agriculture specialist Domingo Cravalho Jr. grabbed spiders and slugs with bare hands and put them into glass vials. When he was satisfied there were no more insects or other living organisms, he started on another tree from another container.
Inspecting a couple of trees from each of about 100 or so refrigerated Matson containers was all part of the annual Christmas tree shakedown yesterday.
"I shook so many trees ... all my wife has to do is put Christmas lights on me," joked Matson worker Wren Kaakimaka as he brushed pine needles off his shirt.
Matson workers do not have to shake every tree -- just two of the 400 to 600 trees in each container. However, the random sampling allows agriculture inspectors to determine whether consumers are unwittingly taking anything else into their homes along with their trees.
"This makes you want to buy a fake tree after seeing all those bugs," said Matson employee Lydell Scharch, who was part of the tree shakedown crew yesterday.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Matson worker Wren Kaakimaka shook a tree for inspection by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture yesterday morning at the Matson Shipyard on Sand Island. After being shipped from farms in Washington and Oregon, the bulk of the state's Christmas trees must go through agricultural inspection here to screen for pests and foreign organisms that could pose a threat to native species.
In recent spot checks, state inspectors have found European wasps in the trees. Also known as the German yellow jacket or Vespula germanica, the yellow and black-striped wasp tops the state's list of insects they want to keep out of Hawaii.
"They're very aggressive," said state entomologist Darcy Oishi. "They'll swarm and sting. They're just not as friendly."
While all trees are supposed to have been inspected by the Oregon Department of Agriculture prior to shipping, Oishi said pests such as the wasps could have flown into the shipping containers afterward.
The discovery of the wasp means some containers will not be released until each tree is inspected in a secure area.
"It makes Hawaii a lot safer," said Gary Nakamatsu, Matson's vice president of sales and marketing. "We've been shipping Christmas trees for more than 100 years.
"Measures have increased and it's for the better," he said.
During a typical year, about 100,000 to 150,000 Douglas, noble and grand firs are imported into the islands from the Pacific Northwest. The first big shipment of 100-plus Matson containers filled with trees and wreaths came on Nov. 19, and another, smaller shipment is expected on Saturday.
Nakamatsu said shoppers will be pleased with the quality of the trees this holiday season.
"They're fuller and greener this year," he said. "There's been some good wet weather in Oregon. If it rains a lot in late summer or early fall, like it has, the trees tend to be very green."
Other species inspectors had their eyes out for were ants, especially queen ants, the gypsy moth, and signs of trees with a tree-killing fungus called sudden oak death. But other than the wasps, inspectors said this year's batch of trees and wreaths held the usual harmless hitchhikers.
"Scarab beetles, spiders, slugs," Domingo said. "Pretty much run-of-the-mill types of insects."