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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 17, 2010

Native plants take root along Isle roads

By Heidi Bornhorst

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

'Aki'aki grass is shown here in its natural habitat, on a windy beach, exposed to rising tides. More than six miles of the native grass have been planted along Maui's Mokulele Highway.

Photo courtesy Heidi Bornhorst

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Want to learn about our future Hawaiian-style highway and freeway landscapes, using federal funds and akamai Hawaiian designers and state employees?

Come to Scenic Hawaii's lunch meeting with featured speaker landscape architect Chris Dacus of the state Department of Transportation, 11:30 a.m. April 29 at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikīkī.

Call 737-8327 to register; $25 includes validated parking.

Visit www.ScenicHawaii.org for more information, or to participate in the 2010 Betty Crocker Landscape Awards; you can nominate your favorite public, private, xeriscape or community garden.

Heidi Bornhorst

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Have you noticed the new landscape, lighting and road improvements along Ala Moana boulevard, near Kalākaua and Kalia?

The plan is to extend this design theme all the way along to Aloha Tower Marketplace starting this year. This will be a boost for the APEC summit too.

For many years, Hawai'i folks who care about our Hawaiian environment growing the appropriate tough, xeric and beautiful Hawaiian plants and our unique scenic beauty have asked the state Department of Transportation to beautify our highways with native plants and better adapted ornamentals, using good maintenance techniques and safe oversight. Nobody wants it to cost us more in taxes. We want federal highway beautification monies to be used in a common sense, Hawaiian-style fashion.

Large-scale, long-range plans that consider all aspects of road and highway design and long-term maintenance are under consideration now.

Shouldn't Hawai'i roads and byways, the streets in our communities, look and feel like we are in Hawai'i? There are so many good-looking native Hawaiian trees and non-weedy ornamental shrubs, ground covers and grasses. We could be akamai-wai (smart about our precious Hawaiian water). Along with our 'āina and people, water is our most precious resource.

Encouraging the growth of Hawaiian-style landscaping is a long-term challenge that takes a committed team. It's easy to stick a plant in the ground, but we all want to make sure the landscape and trees last at least as long as the road surface (about 12 to 15 years).

That's where DOT landscape architect Chris Dacus and an amazing team of engineers, planners and landscape designers come in.

Dacus has been at the DOT for six years as a landscape architect. He has worked with the system, and we are seeing the results. It takes time, patience with the contract process, and vision to reach goals.

Dacus has been well supported by akamai DOT administrators over the years, including Scot Urada, Gary Choy, highways administrator Glenn Yasui and director Brennon T. Morioka. Take a new look at Ala Moana boulevard, Kahekili Highway or Mokulele Highway on Maui where more than six miles of native 'aki'aki grass, stolonized with a hydro seeder, have been planted.

A major sustainable native Hawaiian landscape project that is in the works is the Hālawa interchange. This will be a showcase for native Hawaiian and xeriscape plants. Bunch grasses from dryland forests of Hawai'i are being carefully grown now for the future. The five grasses are 'aki'aki, kawelu, 'emoloa, pili and the sedge 'ahu'awa (Cyperus javanicus).

We like the mowed, golf-course grass look. It's pretty and soothing on the eyes. But do you know what this costs us in water, fertilizer and toxic pesticides, mowing and weed-eating? That's why golfing is a rich man's hobby. The green, mowed-grass look is not natural for Hawai'i or even much of America. It's an import from England, where sheep grazed on the estates of the wealthy.

Hawaiian bunch grasses are our future, helping to ensure we have clean water, both to drink and to grow high-value food crops. They are pretty and unique in our own Hawaiian way. Let's train our brains to love them and remember, they won't need weed-whackers that buzz your ears and ding your cars.

In the past 20 years or so, courageous Hawai'i nursery growers have been figuring out how to grow and maintain about 30 top native Hawaiian plants. People such as Anna Palomino on Maui, Liz Huppman at Lyon Arboretum, Allie Atkins on Hawai'i, Glen Nii in Hawai'i Kai, Audrey Newman of Ladybug nursery in Waimānalo, Alvin Tsuruda of Waihale Products, Rick Barboza, Matt Schirman and Dennis Kim are now offering Hawaiian plants for sale for restoring Kaho'olawe, planting in our home gardens, and gracing our roads, like never before in Hawai'i's history.