By Norman Bezona
University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
There are thousands of species of bamboos, palms, tropical rhododendrons, orchids and bromeliads found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
Many do best when grown in the cool and wet climates of cloud forests. Cloud forests differ from rain forests in that they receive a substantial portion of precipitation from cloud condensation rather than rainfall. The Island of Hawaii has more species growing here than anywhere else in the U.S., thanks to the efforts of the American Bamboo Society, International Palm Society Hawaii Island Chapters, the Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and local nurseries.
These plants are used in the landscape to beautify, but they are also grown for food and health. Fresh heart of palm, acai palm fruit and bamboo shoots are examples. Acai is a relatively new juice marketed for its antioxidant properties. The palm comes from the Amazon but does well here from sea level to about 2,500 feet in elevation.
On Sunday, March 10, the Bamboo Society is having an educational meeting at the 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka. There will be a potluck lunch, so bring your favorite dish. After lunch there will be an education presentation on bamboo and then a tour. For further information, contact Jacqui Marlin at email@example.com or 966-5080 to RSVP.
The sanctuary is three miles up Kaloko Drive; turn right at the third intersection of Hao and Kaloko, If you go a bit too far, you will find yourself at Mountain Thunder Coffee Co. At 3,000 feet, this is the highest-elevation coffee grown in the United States.
Many of Hawaii’s native forests and forest watersheds are threatened, even with all the rhetoric about saving rainforests and cloud forests. There is a great opportunity to reforest pasture areas once in forest with valuable palms and bamboos. The Kaloko cloud forest is one of the most accessible native forests in West Hawaii. It, among other high-elevation areas of Hawaii, is being developed for agriculture and residential activities.
Kaloko Mauka subdivision is a 2,000-acre forest area on the western slope of Hualalai volcano above Kailua-Kona. Lot sizes vary from 1 to 40 acres. It runs from the Mamalahoa Highway at 1,500 elevation to nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.
Much of Kaloko Mauka is still covered with native forest. Although it is sparsely populated, the gardens of residents are a fascinating mixture of heliconias, hydrangeas, and hoawa, calatheas, camellias, and kopiko. The area abounds with ancient koa (Acacia koa), ohia (Meterosideros polymorpha) and gigantic tree ferns, some of which are 30 feet or more in height. These ferns may be over 100 years old, since the trunks only grow 2 to 3 inches per year.
The native forest contains many rare and endangered species which many residents are committed to protect through the Hawaii Forest Stewardship Program. This program allows residents to dedicate and manage their properties to enhance this important and unique watershed. It is administered through the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry Division.
In the heart of the subdivision, Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary has been set aside for protecting and testing native trees, palms, tree ferns, bamboos, vireya rhododendrons, bromeliads and valuable timber trees. Observations are being made as to their adaptability for reforestation, agricultural and landscape use.
Efforts at Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary are to protect and preserve native plants and animals. At the same time, coordinators are testing and utilizing non-indigenous plant materials that are “environmentally friendly.” That is, plants that will not displace native plants, but are able to exist in harmony, adding fruit, fragrance and color where it is desired.
Kaloko Mauka is unusual because, although it is a cloud forest, it is influenced by the balmy Kona climate. It is the home of the Hawaiian hawk, apapane, iiwi, elepaio, amakihi and many other endemic and exotic birds. Cloud forests differ from the tropical rain forests in that a substantial amount of precipitation is derived from mists that condense on the trees and drip to the forest floor. When trees are removed, rainfall decreases substantially.
Much of Kaloko Mauka has been identified as essential wildlife habitat and forest watershed. It is the goal of many residents of Kaloko Mauka to set an example that they can live in harmony with the forest and still have homes and some “forest friendly” agriculture activities. This is essential if West Hawaii is to have the rainfall and water needed to supply communities at lower elevations.
Kona is protected from the trade winds and excessive rainfall by three major mountain masses. With no trade winds, rainfall and temperatures are primarily influenced by on-shore breezes during the day. This creates a “summer wet/winter dry” effect similar to the Caribbean, and is ideally suited for coffee, macadamia and tropical forest production.
Rainfall occurs each afternoon from April through October, with the region receiving occasional precipitation from northwesterly storms occurring November through March. Rainfall varies with elevation. At Kailua-Kona, a mere 30 inches average is annually recorded. In Kaloko Mauka at 3,000 feet, the rainfall averages 75 inches a year. Temperatures also vary dramatically. In Kailua-Kona, the typical summer day high may reach 88 degrees, while the temperatures at 3,000 feet will be a cool 75 degrees. Winter lows at night average in the mid-50s, and in the summer, the mid-60s. These very mild climatic conditions are ideal for semitropical plants. Now, more than 30 years of plantings at the sanctuary are beginning to mature.
Bamboo species like the giant Dendrocalamus asper and Dendrocalamus brandesii reach heights of over 100 feet. The sanctuary is well suited to mountain cloud forest palm species and yet there are no native palms in the area. The endemic Pritchardia affinis is found as isolated specimens in Kona up to about 1,500 feet. The rare Pritchardia schattaueri is found at 2,000 feet to the south at Honomalino and Pritchardia beccariana is growing up to 4,000 feet on the east slope of Mauna Loa. All native Pritchardias tested at the sanctuary have done well. It is possible that grazing animals in the forests destroyed Pritchardia species that may have existed. Cattle did have a devastating impact on other susceptible forest species such as the Acacia koa.
For a fun Sunday outing, join the Hawaii Chapter of the Bamboo Society. You might even be lucky enough to go home with a rare bamboo!