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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Zoo to lose 'magnificent specimen' of a tree

By Shayna Coleon
Advertiser Staff Writer

One of the Honolulu Zoo's most stately trees is so diseased and weakened by improper pruning over the years that it will be removed Wednesday.

Abner Undan, arborist from Trees of Hawaii, and Mary Steiner of The Outdoor Circle chat in front of a decaying earpod tree on the Honolulu Zoo's main lawn. The tree, at least 70 years old, has been dropping branches and is a potential hazard. It will be removed Wednesday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The 90-foot-tall giant earpod was planted in the 1920s, before the zoo was even built.

Zoo officials yesterday said the tree, which stands near an aviary on the main lawn, is so diseased that large limbs are falling off. Last month a bough 12 inches in diameter fell off, marking about 16 such limb breaks since November 2000, when the tree was first recommended for removal.

Barry Fukunaga, director of the city's Department of Enterprise Services, said the tree is a potential safety hazard for zoo visitors.

"Unfortunately, we will have to remove this magnificent specimen," he said.

Abner Undan, a certified arborist and director of Trees of Hawai'i Inc., had urged zoo officials to remove the tree two years ago because the trunk, which is 6 feet in diameter, and the branches of the tree were decaying with fungus and bacteria. The tree also had several large wounds on its branches and trunk, which were also oozing out a foul-smelling substance, Undan said.

"There's nothing we can do to alleviate the weakening condition of the tree," Undan said. "Improper pruning has taken away the ability of the tree to take care of itself."

If the earpod tree was healthy it could have grown up to 150 feet, Undan said. There are about 1,000 earpods trees in the state, and it was one of the first trees introduced to islands from South America.

When the tree was first recommended for removal, The Outdoor Circle fought to save the earpod, which is on the state's registry of exceptional trees.

"We tried really hard to save the tree but experts convinced us it would not be responsible to keep it here," said Mary Steiner, chief executive officer of The Outdoor Circle. "It's so sad."

Steiner added that sick trees have become a rampant problem in O'ahu because of improper pruning.

"I think we all learned a lot on the science of trees," Steiner said. "What they thought were well ways to maintain these trees were actually not, and that's why we see it all over the island."

Parts of the earpod tree will be saved, along with a photograph of the tree before work crews begin to take it apart, to show visitors what it looked like. The zoo's main lawn will be closed when the tree is removed, and the city will plant a monkeypod tree in its place, Fukunaga said.