By NORMAN C. BEZONA
University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
The Hawaii Chapter of the International Palm Society is inviting the public to a program on palm diseases, pests and care plus anything else you ever wanted to know about the vast number of palms grown here. The program will be presented by Dr. Scott Nelson at 7 p.m. on Friday at the UH-Hilo campus, Room 100. For meeting details, call 333-5626.
When folks around the world think of Hawaii, they picture coconut palm-lined beaches. In reality, we do have that scene and so much more. Hawaii is really a Noah’s Arc of rare palms. We have more of the 5,000 species of palms growing here than anywhere else in the United States. South Florida comes in a close second, but the occasional severe cold spells limit them from growing the ultra tropical species.
Here we can grow the super delicate species as well as those requiring cool mountain or even desert conditions. More palms are being discovered and tested in Hawaii each year due to efforts of nurserymen like Jeff Marcus and the International Palm Society. Their purpose is to educate folks to propagate, grow and distribute species that are becoming endangered due to human destruction of the tropical forests. Many of these species will find their way to Hawaii and someday be found in our botanical gardens and community landscapes.
The International Palm Society meets every other year in some unique location. If you would like to learn more about palms, visit exotic locations and help save threatened species, you can join the Hawaii Chapter. Activities include palm and seed exchanges, private garden tours, educational meetings, lending library of palm books, palm auctions, news letters and good friends. Check out their website at www.hawaiiislandpalm society.com.
I just returned from a palm meeting in the Peruvian Amazon in time to attend a palm garden tour in Kaloko Mauka Kona. The 3-acre garden at approximately 2,500-foot elevation was a fantastic planting of rare palms incorporated into the native forest. Gardens like this one bring a world of rare and endangered species to us before they are destroyed through clearing, logging and mining such as I saw in Peru.
Hawaii’s forests and forest watersheds are threatened as well, even with all the rhetoric about saving rainforests. In East Hawaii, many forest areas are subdivided into small lots of one to three acres and unless the owners of the land really commit to protecting the forested lots, they are bulldozed and flattened. In West Hawaii, the same situation occurs with private lands being subdivided and cleared.
An exception is the Kaloko Mauka cloud forest which is one of the most accessible cloud forests, in West Hawaii. It, among other high elevation areas of Hawaii, is being developed for agriculture and residential activities. However, county planners are making an effort to encourage developers to protect the forest watershed by placing requirements that the lots remain in forest. The county is also requiring a forest management plan and is allowing owners to dedicate to native forest or tree crops, thus reducing the tax burden. Kaloko Mauka subdivision is a 2,000-acre forest area on the western slope of Hualalai Volcano above Kailua-Kona. Lot sizes vary from 3 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 forest. Although it is sparsely populated, the gardens of residents are a fascinating mixture of Heliconias, Hydrangeas, and Hoawa, Calatheas, Camellias, Kopiko, Koa and palms. The area abounds with ancient Koa (Acacia Koa), Ohia (Meterosideros polymorpha) and gigantic treeferns, 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.
Efforts in the Kaloko Mauka community are to protect and preserve native plants and animals. At the same time, utilize non indigenous plant materials that are rare or threatened and “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 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 our island is to have the rainfall and watershed needed to supply communities at lower elevations.
Tropical forests include not only trees but understory palms, bromeliads, orchids, ferns and bamboos. Many palms world wide are endangered. The Kaloko Mauka area is particularly interesting in that it is ideally suited to mountain cloud forest palm species and yet there are presently no native palms in the area other than those planted by residents. The 20-plus species of Loulu, like the endemic Pritchardia affinis are found as isolated specimens in Kona. The rare Pritchardia schattaueri is found at 2,000 feet to the south at Honomolino and Pritchardia beccariana is growing up to 4,000 feet on the east slope of Mauna Loa. These and many others are now grown in Kaloko mauka. Palm enthusiasts islandwide are now incorporating our rare native species into their gardens thus protecting them from extinction.
Be part of this effort by getting involved in the Hawaii Island Palm Society!