Home » Service Learning » UHWO Service Learning: Kalaeloa Heritage Park

UHWO Service Learning: Kalaeloa Heritage Park

This weekend, my intro biology and intro botany students at UH West O’ahu completed their first service learning event at Kalaeloa Heritage Park, an archaeological site and wahi pana (sacred place) managed and protected by the Kalaeloa Heritage and Legacy Foundation. The 77 acres that make up Kalaleoa Heritage Park contains 177 recorded cultural sites. A six-acre section housing 51 documented archaeological features is being prepared as an educational park which will eventually be open to the public. Our role is to restore the vegetation of the park to represent the flora that was present when the site was occupied and eradicate the invasive vegetation that has encroached on the park.

Prior to the restoration, Shad Kane took the students on a tour of the park, including the eleven primary archaeological features which will form the focus of the park when it is open to the public. Shad emphasized to the students that the story of the Kalaeloa residents is one of the farmer, the fisherman, and the gatherer, not one of chiefs or royals. The entire ‘Ewa Plain (stretching from Pearl Harbor west to Wai‘anae) including Kalaeloa Heritage Park is emerged coral reef which has fossilized and covered with a thin layer of soil. Consequently, the archaeological features are built of coral ‘rocks’ excavated from the surrounding area and suggest a Tahitian origin due to the prevalence of upright stones in the construction.

The features include:

  • Sinkholes in the coral which access an extensive underground river of freshwater.  Sinkholes were used for agriculture (plants could be planted inside the sinkhole to access the water), drinking water, or burial sites. Some of the sinkholes were large enough to have stairwells carved into them and open into large underground chambers.
  • Storage structures in which food (such as salt fish) and other goods (including bird feathers) were stored.
  • Other burial structures (not in sinkholes) called ‘ahu, which also served as places of personal prayer.
  • Portions of the Kualaka’i Trail which served to link inland resources (for example, kalo fields) with shoreline fishing grounds. The trail was documented in early maps of Hawaii, including the well-known maps published in 1825 from surveys performed by Royal Navy Lt. Malden of the HMS Blonde.
  • The largest feature of the 6-acre park is a partially rebuilt gathering and meeting room. The floor of the structure includes a natural raised coral platform in the center, which overlays at least two large underground caves. Shad emphasized that since this was not the home of a chief, the structure is not a true heiau (temple) but was clearly a structure of importance to the residents.

Not all of the features of the park are ancient. The Kalaeloa Heritage Park grounds were once owned by the United States Navy, and still today abut the Kalaeloa Airport with frequent military traffic. In 1949, a training exercise resulted in the crash of a 3-man plane, killing the men on board. Portions of the wreckage are still visible, and the heritage park plans to erect a memorial to honor the men.

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Our restoration efforts at Kalaeloa this semester marked a first for the UHWO crew – we’re experimentally testing a new planting methodology! During their travels to Australia over winter break, Drs. Frank Stanton (recently retired from Leeward Community College), and Evelyn Cox (our own UHWO head of Math and Science) read about a new methodology of planting plants as deep down as possible, covering even significant portions of the stem underground (called ‘long-stem planting’). The standard protocol for planting has been to keep the stem above-ground to prevent rotting or infiltration by bacteria/fungus into the stem tissue, which could kill the plant. Recent articles have documented success with the long-stem approach, attributing the success to increased root area through adventitious roots arising from the now-underground stem and increased depth of initial roots, allowing the plant to more readily access deeper soil water pools.

The method has met with apparent success for a variety of Australian species and habitats, so we are now trying it with Hawaiian restoration. Since we are scientists, Bruce Koebele (our resident propagation expert) developed paired trials of two different species to test the relative success of the two methods at Kalaeloa. Students from Leeward Community College will plant additional pairs (replication!!!!!) at Kalaeloa later this month.

Experimental Plantings
‘A’ali’i, ah-ah-lee-ee (Dodonaea viscosa): one of my personal favorites, due to its pretty red fruits (though they are not always this bright) and its reputation for bending without breaking. This second trait led to the use of ‘a’ali’i as a description of a person who is strong, resilient, or loyal. This was our first time planting ‘a’ali’i at Kalaeloa. Previously, it was thought that the plant did not exist in this region, but recent pollen analyses of the nearby Ordy Pond indicate that the species did reside in this area.


Fruits of the ‘a’ali’i (taken in Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i)

Ko’oloa’ula, koh-oh-loh-uh-ooh-luh (Abutilon menziesii): another first for our plantings at Kalaeloa, this endangered shrub is actually often used in landscaping.

In the photos below, green flags represent long-stem plantings and pink flags represent traditional plantings. I hope to revisit the site with Bruce throughout the semester to see how the plants progress.

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Traditional Restoration Plantings
We supplemented our experimental planting with additional plantings in the traditional manner:

Kou, koh (Cordia subcordata) This native, though not endemic, tree was once thought to be a Polynesian introduction; however, recent excavations on Kaua’i uncovered fossilized kou seeds which pre-date Polynesian settlement of the islands indicating this plant is native to the islands. Ko will make an important contribution to the park as a shade tree (the only other large trees planned for the park are wiliwili, which drop their leaves in the summer and so do not make amazing shade trees).

Naio, nye-oh (Myoporum stellatum) This rare endemic shrub is found only in Kalaeloa and Nanakuli, and may soon be found only in Kalaeloa.  Despite being quite rare, naio is only listed as ‘at-risk.’ It was sometimes substituted for ‘iliahi during the sandalwood trade, giving it the unfortunate nickname of ‘bastard sandalwood.’

Maiapilo, mye-uh-pee-loh (Capparis sandwichiana) This endemic shrub is named for its stinky (‘pilo’ means a swampy or otherwise unpleasant smell) and banana-shaped (‘maia’ is the name for banana) fruits.  Maiapilo are closely related to capers and are federally listed as ‘at-risk.’  In early excavation at KHP, Shad discovered wild maiapilo already growing in the area, indicating our little plants will do well here. Maiapilo also attract birds to eat the seeds, which will not only spread more maiapilo plants, but will also contribute to a healthy ecosystem in the park.

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Our goal at Kalaeloa (and all our service learning sites) is to not only plant native and endemic plants, but also to remove introduced and invasive plants from the region. In addition to the plantings, the students cleared a section of the park of golden crown beard (Verbesina encelioides), and tackled a particularly large sourbush (Pluchea carolinensis).

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As always, I also like to take some time to visit our past plantings. Kalaeloa has a number of particularly good examples of our little plants just loving their new homes. It makes me so happy to see plants I recognize from previous semesters and see them thriving months and years later. A couple of the comparison photos below also show how successful our eradication efforts have been by the lack of invasive grasses in the background. It’s such clear visual evidence that the work we’re doing at these sites is really making a difference.






  1. […] species than we have at any other service learning – a total of 12 unique species! At Kalaeloa, we tend to stick with only a few species because that site is extremely dry and has very shallow […]

  2. […] semester, we tried an experimental planting method called long-stem planting, where much of the stem is planted under ground. Studies had suggested […]

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