Conservation and propagation hot topics in Hawaii

  • Kyle and Diane McWhirter meditate under the canopy of a giant blue marble tree growing at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka. The seed is used for making Hindu and Buddhist prayer beads. (Voltaire Moise/Courtesy Photo)

Last week was a big gathering of conservation folks at the 25th annual Hawaii Conservation Conference on Oahu. It is now followed by the International Plant Propagators Society meeting in Honolulu. From Tuesday to Aug. 4, the society will be on Hawaii Island at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel and will be visiting local nurseries and gardens. The focus will be propagation of our native plants as well as well as unique non-native species. If you are interested in getting involved in the presentations and tours, you may check out the IPPS website for details.

The IPPS has over 1,000 members from all over the world. Attending annual conferences gives commercial propagators and others interested the opportunity to share new methods of propagating rare and endangered species.


Many of Hawaii’s endemic plants are threatened. Even with all the rhetoric about saving rainforests, we may lose much of our beloved ohia due to disease and climate change. Challenges like these are found worldwide. Conservation groups, researchers and plant societies like IPPS are working together for solutions. For example, plant propagators and researchers are seeking ways to produce disease resistant strains of ohia.

There will be tours around the island to Hilo and south through Ka’u. Among the tours coming up on Aug. 3 will be a visit to the unique Kona Cloud Forest. This narrow strip of forest running from Makalei to the lava fields of South Kona depends on the daily cloud mists that form from 2,000-5,000 feet elevation. When the moist air rises each day, it is cooled by cloud forest trees creating rain. If forest is destroyed by human, animal or volcanic activity precipitation is reduced by as much as 40 percent. This can affect the fresh water aquifer reducing available water to makai homes, gardens, hotels and golf courses.

The Aug. 3 tour will visit Kaloko Mauka above Kailua-Kona and the garden of Dean Ouer, where participants will see an excellent collection of tropical Vireya Rhododendron and palms. Much of Kaloko Mauka is still covered with native forest. Although it is sparsely populated, the gardens of residents are a fascinating mixture of hydrangeas, hoawa, calatheas, camellias, koa and kopiko. The area abounds with ancient 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 that local 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 Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry Division.


In the heart of the forest, they will visit the 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. Fifteen acres previously in pasture have been set aside for testing palms, treeferns, bamboos, bromeliads and other plant materials. Observations are being made as to their adaptability for reforestation, agricultural and landscape use. Sixty acres are being preserved in native forest. Kaloko Mauka is the home of the Hawaiian hawk, apapane, iiwi, elepaio, amakihi and many other endemic and exotic birds. Kaloko Mauka has been identified as essential wildlife habitat and forest watershed. The tour will also include nurseries like Hawaiian Gardens, Greenwell Coffee Farms, Mountain Thunder Coffee Company and the Cellier family vanilla farm where propagation and plant culture will be discussed.

Cloud forests include not only trees but under story palms, bromeliads, orchids, ferns and bamboos. Many are endangered due to the destruction caused by climate change and human activities. Fortunately, Hawaii is becoming a kind of Noah’s Ark of rare species thanks to the efforts of conservation and plant groups like IPPS, the International Palm Society, Bamboo, Orchid, Rhododendron and other plant societies too numerous to list here.

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