On Saturday, September 13th, my intro biology and intro botany students met at the Cultural Learning Center at Ka’ala Farm for the first of our three service learning projects this semester. This kipuka (area of older land surrounded by younger lava flows) now serves as a traditional kalo farm, and ecological restoration site. The UH West O’ahu students contributed to the ecological restoration of native Hawai’ian dry forest under the supervision of Bruce Koebele, the native plant project coordinator at Ka’ala Farm. The restoration of native dry forest is important for a number of reasons:
1) Over 95% of the native dry forest is already gone. In the past, native forest was cut out for grazing and agriculture, and today invasive plants quickly take over regions where native dry forest plants might otherwise thrive.
2) Many of the native dry forest species are endangered or threatened. Restoration projects are important form of in situ conservation for these species.
3) Many of the plants that make up the native dry forest are also important cultural resources. Restoration projects keep these plants viable for the cultural value they provide, in addition to their ecological roles.
4) Lastly, what little native dry forest remains is often inaccessible, and therefore ‘invisible’ to local people. Restoration projects help raise awareness of the threats the native dry forest species face, and build a commitment to protecting the remnants of this habitat.
Our role in the project consisted of restoring a small (roughly 10 ft x 50 ft) patch at Ka’ala Kipuka. Specifically, this required three steps: 1) Remove invasive and non-native plants currently inhabiting the area. For this step, we used hand scythes, ‘o’o (a Hawai’ian digging tool), and in some cases pick axes to dig out the strong roots of the invasive plants. At the end of this step, we had a clean, bare patch of ground, devoid of all invasive or non-native plants.
2) Prepare the ground for planting. The next step was to dig a hole for the plant and fill it with water. This provides the plant a supply of water underground (where it is less susceptible to evaporating than at the surface) and encourages the plant to develop deeper root growth. Since this is a large-scale ecological research program, the individual plants are not watered or cared for after their initial planting. It is necessary to provide the plant with enough resources for it to fully establish without additional care and maintenance.
3) Plant native dry forest plants
Bruce provided the students with 10 plants, two each of five native species.
Alahe’e, ah-lah-heh-ay (Psydrax odorata): this tree is indigenous, but not endemic to Hawai’i and is not listed as endangered or threatened. The wood from alahe’e was used to make ‘o’o, Hawai’ian tools that serve as both a digging tool and a crowbar
Hala pepe, hah-lah peh-pay (Pleomele hawaiiensis): this tree is endemic to Hawai’i and is federally listed as endangered. The large flowers of the hala pepe are often used for making lei, and leaves are an important component of the hula as the hala pepe tree represents the hula goddess Kapo.
Wiliwili, willy-willy (Erythrina sandwicensis): this endemic tree is deciduous, which is unusual in Hawai’i. It is currently federally listed as at-risk. When it was more common, the wiliwili was the preferred choice of wood for surfboards. Flowers and seeds of the wiliwili are also used in lei.
Ma’o, mah-oh (Gossypium tomentosum): this shrub is also known as Hawai’ian cotton. Ma’o is endemic to Hawai’i and federally listed as vulnerable.
‘A’ali’i, ah-ah-lee-ee (Dodonaea viscosa): this shrub is endemic to Hawai’i and widespread throughout the islands, found everywhere except Kaho’olawe. Fruits of the ‘a’ali’i were used for making dye and as medicine for headaches and fevers and ‘a’ali’i wood was used for tools and weapons. The ‘a’ali’i grows in regions that often have powerful winds, requiring the plant to be strong, but flexible; to ‘bend with the wind’ as the saying goes. Comparison to an ‘a’ali’i tree means a person is resilient, loyal, powerful, or steadfast.
The students planted each plant in the muddy hole created in step 2. Then, each plant was surrounded by a 6 ft2 tarp to prevent weeds from infiltrating the plant’s ‘personal space.’ We held the tarps down with rocks until Bruce could come back and staple them down to prevent them blowing away. We wished our plants the best of luck in their new homes, and proceeded home for MUCH needed showers 🙂