Ka Wai Ola

Robert K. Lindsey, Jr., Trustee, Hawai‘iThe ‘ŌHI‘A (metrosideros polymorpha) tree is very special and sacred to us, the first people of these beautiful islands. More special and sacred I believe than the kukui. I realize kukui is our State Tree. Please know I’m not looking to rekindle a debate that was refereed and settled a longtime time ago – ‘ōhi‘a versus kukui. Kukui obviously won.

With ‘ōhi‘a, time, focus and energy must be spent in the ER (emergency room), in the laboratory to find a cure to deal with an epidemic presently ravaging our ‘ōhi‘a forests, to find an antidote to treat the Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) fungus. If this culprit is not arrested soon,‘ōhi‘a – this special and sacred endemic tree which was abundant on Moku O Keawe well before our ancestors stepped ashore at Ka Lae 14 centuries ago – will be just another beautiful image in a glossy album sitting on a coffee table or a PowerPoint presentation at a conservation conference rather than a stately tree providing a limb for a pair of iiwi or some other native forest bird to cling to in the uplands.

I have a vested interest in ‘ōhi‘a and I hope you do too. I should say both my wife and I have a vested nexus to ‘ōhi‘a. We live in Kohala Hema on the south (Hamakua) flank of the Kohala Mountains in the lee of two pu‘u – Haloa and Kaala. The only tree which grows on Haloa and Kaala is ‘ōhi‘a. The ‘ōhi‘a provides a canopy for an understory of waiwai‘i‘ole, palapalai, hapu‘u, white ginger, maile and sphagnum moss. Its lehua blossoms when in season are scarlet red. The patches of red that carpet the slopes Haloa and Kaala are stunningly beautiful. A magnificent sight to behold. We have an ‘ōhi‘a floor in our den and foyer. An amazing piece of work put down almost 20 years ago. We were told by a few skeptics in time the floor would move, lift and buckle. Thus far it hasn’t and I don’t think it ever will. With age it looks better today than it did two decades ago. Our grandson Samuel’s piko sits under three ‘ōhi‘a trees (red, lemon and gold ones) planted in our front yard to memorialize his birth in June 2014. Two years ago the trees, which were about three feet tall, bushy and full of life, began to die from the top. Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death had found an alanui (path) to our cherished trees whose fragile roots had by then tethered themselves to Samuel’s umbilical cord. Their crowns were wilting and dying.

“What to do?” As a former organic farmer I got a squirt bottle, filled it with soap and water and sprayed soapy water on the trees. Within a month the black mold disappeared and new leaves began to appear. Once on death’s doorstep the trees are well again. But vigilance and TLC remain a must. There’s no time for relaxing. The squirt bottle with soapy water is always near, emptied and replenished weekly. It knows its kuleana and does it well. Its initial rescue mission has morphed into a prevention mission. In a small way we are doing our part in our corner of North Hawai‘i to save ‘ōhi‘a from becoming either an ‘endangered or threatened specie.’ Massive ‘ōhi‘a forests on our very Big Island are now infected with the ROD fungus. Science and culture I’m confi dent will fi nd a way to save ‘ōhi‘a from being eulogized in 50 years as a bygone memory. A solution is around the bend. I’m sure of that.

Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.