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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 18, 2002

Helping to keep the Islands green

By Heidi Bornhorst

'We need a botanical garden on Molokai!" someone exclaimed, and we all agreed. Botanic gardens are a great resource for any community. Lots of great plantings are happening on the Friendly Island, and maybe one day it also will have its own botanical garden.

At the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture plant material center, Bob Joy, Glenn Sakamoto and Nancy Buckman, among other staffers and volunteers, are growing many native Hawaiian plants. One of their missions is to help revegetate and restore Kaho'olawe. They are growing phenomenal plants as no one has done before in Hawai'i. One of their goals is to mechanically harvest and grow natives on a huge scale to regreen the barren island.

They also are testing the drought-tolerant nature of native plants, how they react to herbicides and other methods of efficiently controlling weeds and growing natives.

Pili grass is one plant on which that they use large-scale agricultural techniques. Pili has a dormancy period before its seeds will germinate. The plant experts found that if they baled the pili grass, the seeds could lie inside the bales, safe and protected, until they were ready to germinate. The bale acts as mulch, provides shade and collects windblown soil and seeds. The pili grass bales become native plant nurseries. The bales can then be flown to Kaho'olawe in helicopters. This is slowly helping to regreen the island.

Botanical gardens keep meticulous, detailed records of where plants came from and how well they grow. These records are a fantastic resource for science and horticulture. Finding out how best to grow, culture and perpetuate native Hawaiian plants is a most important science for all of us.

At Mo'omomi, Moloka'i, a famous fishing area and one of the few somewhat intact sand-dune ecosystems for native coastal plants, the Hui o Mo'omomi is restoring fragile and rare native beach plants with the help and leadership of Mac Poepoe. Poepoe humbly says that he is simply an ocean person and a fisherman, wanting to keep the mud and dust off the reef and out of the water in the rainy season, and that Hawaiian plants are key in keeping the soil where it belongs.

The Nature Conservancy also is helping to manage and protect the special plants at Mo'omomi.

Heidi Bornhorst is director of Honolulu's botanical gardens. Submit questions to islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com or to Island Life, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Letters may be published or distributed in print, electronic or other forms.