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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 27, 2010

Legacy trees are protected by law

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Two exceptional trees at Foster Botanical Garden: the elephant earpod, top, and Mary Mikahala Robinson's Foster's bo or bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa).

Heidi Bornhorst

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Q. What is an "exceptional tree"?

Mahalo nui,

L.R.G., Kaimukī

A. Exceptional trees, or ETs, as we horticulturists and arborists call them for short, are a legacy for us in Hawai'i. They are a prized green asset in our Hawaiian urban forests and recognized and protected on all islands by state and county laws.

Homeowners who agree to let their trees be exceptionalized with due process can even get a tax break for caring for and respectfully trimming exceptional trees on their property. How cool is that?

Do you know that trees are one of the very few things that do not depreciate? If cared for professionally, following modern tree science (arboriculture) and best management practices, trees can keep on growing, cooling us and our planet, filtering storm water runoff and protecting Hawai'i's fresh water, coral and salt water resources, not to mention providing beauty, shade, oxygen, flowers, edible fruit in some cases and much, much more.

As Teresa Trueman-Madriaga, coordinator of the Kaulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program, puts it, "Urban forestry is America's frontline defense against global climate change."

Two very akamai Girl Scouts, Jelene Wong and Cristin Lim, were asked the same question about trees and they made it their mission to find out more, then do more for the exceptional trees of Honolulu. They wrote a grant request to fund their project, which involved meeting with various professional tree huggers and scientists and doing some scientific and historical research. They are exploring further grant funding to support their plans to create an illustrated map and walking guide.

I got to meet these young women at our quarterly Kaulunani grant funding and future of urban forests meeting at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden on Feb. 12. I had heard about what these Girl Scouts and 'Io-lani students wanted to do and I was so happy to meet them in person, along with Carin Lim, their adviser and leader of Troop 355 for more than 10 years.

Many of our exceptional trees grow in public botanical gardens such as Foster, Lyon Arboretum and Wahiawā. Some are found in the Honolulu Zoo and in Kapi'olani Park. Some are on old estates like the Walker Estate in Nu'uanu Valley and on Kāne'ohe ranch lands. Others are street trees, like the giant mahogany trees lining the mauka part of Kalākaua Avenue (in which our official city bird, the fairy tern or manu o kū, lays its precious eggs).

The Queen's Medical Center grounds are full of exceptional trees. The baobab, bombax and other huge legacy trees grow at this healing place and garden, founded in part by Queen Emma.

The first lychee in Hawai'i has been designated an exceptional tree. It grows in the old Chun Hoon parking lot on the corner of Nu'uanu Avenue and School Street, near Foster Botanical Garden. This area is set for redevelopment and the new owners promise to care for it. We all need to help them keep an eye on this tree, which still fruits, and ensure they keep their promise about this living piece of Hawaiian history.

We need to manage our trees with the best professional tools and personnel possible. Low bids should not be the driving force for tree care. As with all things in life, you get what you pay for. Just like using real doctors for health care, or a licensed electrician to rewire your home, find the best pro you can for your trees, who follows the best management practices for correct planting and establishment care, proper pruning and adequate water and nutrient supplies. With proper care, trees can live hundreds of years and leave a strong legacy for our children and beyond.