Saturday, July 18, 2009

The towering risk of making this place like every other place

Bringing new things to an old place is a two-edged sword.

We have a paradoxical love for places that are different, yet we desperately work to make them like someplace else.

It was ever so.

(Image: 'Ohi'a rust on rose apple, Syzygium jambos. Credit: Forest and Kim Starr.)

Among the newest threats to the differentness of Hawai'i is the 'ohi'a rust , eucalyptus rust or guava rust, Puccinia psidii. The fungal disease, first noticed in an O'ahu plant nursery in 2005, hits many members of the myrtle family, which includes eucalyptus, guava, ohia, mountain apple, rose apples and many more. There are more than 200 species of myrtle in Hawai'i, some native, some introduced.

The host plants of this particular rust variety are fairly limited, but scientists fear its relatives could attack other myrtles.

One fear is that Hawai'i's rainforests could be destroyed if we import a form that targets the myrtle 'ohi'a, which is arguably the mother of the Hawaiian forest. With the rainforest goes the watershed.

Those concerned with Hawai'i's plant life are urging the state Department of Agriculture to quickly adopt a permanent rule banning the importing of myrtle family members, for fear they will bring in new and even more aggressive forms of the rust. (A temporary ban was allowed to expire last year.)

While some argue such a strict quarantine is uncalled for, noted Hawaiian botanist Lloyd Loope said that a stringent quarantine may be the only protection Hawai'i has.

“If we lose 'ohi'a, we lose our forest,” he said. For more, see the Hawai'i Ecosystems at Risk (HEAR) website on the rust.

Today, we import large amounts of plant material from Mainland nurseries. With the living plants come other living things, including plant diseases and various pests. Many other pests simply ride along in container shipments of other products--from household goods to supermarket vegetables.

Let's list a few:

The coqui frog, which now interrupts the once-peaceful nights in many Island communities.

The two-spotted leafhopper, a sucking insect with 400 or so host plant species, including ornamentals, native rare plants and food plants.

The erythrina gall wasp, which has destroyed much of the streetscape of wiliwili trees.

I've just read Ursula Meier's book, “Dr. William Hillebrand: His Life & Letters,” a fascinating, if poorly edited, Bishop Museum Press book about Hawai'i's first great Western botanist.

Hillebrand, the physician to Hawaiian royalty in the mid to late 1800s, had two great avocations: One was collecting and documenting Hawai'i's amazing native flora; the other was bringing in new species.

He brought in poincianas and monkeypods, cinnamon and its cousin camphor, mandarin oranges and Java plums, plumerias and ironwoods. And lots more.

His goal, to shade the public areas, provide taste treats, and spruce up the bare dusty streets of Honolulu.

But Hillebrand was hardly the first plant importer. Other westerners, notably Don Francisco de Paula Marin, brought many species. Marin's grape orchard gave Vineyard Street in Honolulu its name.

And the first humans to inhabit these islands, the Polynesians, also brought more than two dozen species, among them the kukui, sugar cane, banana and taro.

But the worm comes with the apple. Being able to import species we like comes with the likelihood that we bring in species we hate. Centipedes, mosquitoes, ants, stinging wasps and all kinds unwelcome imports have also joined the Hawaiian biota.

So far, only one variety of the 'ohi'a rust is here. To put this in the calmest terms possible, it seems reasonable to take action to prevent the importing of varieties that will cause more severe problems.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

1 comment:

Hawaiian Opinion Administrator said...

Keeping Hawaii, Hawaii should be a goal of everyone who lives here.