Archive for the ‘invasive species’ Category

Finding a tree

December 14th, 2015


Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging...Not only green when summer's here, but also when it's cold and drear...

Shopping for a Christmas tree takes on new meaning when you visit an actual farm and see the trees that are growing out of the ground up close. That's why the trip to Helamano Farms on Whitmore Avenue in Wahiawa was worth the drive the weekend after Thanksgiving (and honestly, it's not that bad, as long as there's no traffic).

Thanksgiving in Hawaii this year was rainy, so the red dirt was still a bit soggy, but it was nevertheless fun to walk  between the rows of Norfolk pines, exploring the Leyland cypresses and new this year — silver-blue Carolina Sapphires and evergreen Japanese Yoshino cedar trees.

It was our first time visiting the farm, though it had been on my to-do list for a few years. I'm so happy we finally made it.

Our dog, Kona (a Springer spaniel mix from the Hawaiian Humane Society) and my son Brandon, 5, loved roaming the grounds. Kona loved sniffing around the tree trunks (and will remember all the smells, I'm sure). Brandon just loved running among the trees.

From the moment we parked and stepped on to the farm, we found the staff friendly and welcoming. Ezekiel Gamponia-Tyrell showed us around, helped us pick out a Leyland cypress and sawed it down. Some people wander around for more than an hour finding just the right tree. We found ours within about 15 minutes.

But you're still welcome to wander around after you've found your tree, and take photos (see my photo gallery below).

Before we knew it, Ezekiel had the tree hefted over his shoulder and headed toward checkout, then he netted it and helped load it into the back of the pickup truck.

Ezekiel Gamponia-Tyrell, a worker at Helemano Farms, helps customers select, cut down and load the tree on to their vehicles.

Ezekiel Gamponia-Tyrell, a worker at Helemano Farms, helps customers select, cut down and load the tree on to their vehicles.

Every year, people in Hawaii are so used to waiting in anticipation for the trees to be shipped over here from Oregon and Washington state, and picking out a tree from a parking lot. While I know some people are just wedded to the idea of the Noble fir with its particular pine scent for Christmas, a local tree makes a great alternative.

You would be cutting out the carbon pollution of shipping trees across the ocean, the risks of invasive pests, mostly yellow jacket wasps and slugs, and supporting a local, family-owned business. I think it'd be great if there was more than just one Christmas tree farm on Oahu.

As of Dec. 1 this year, 201 containers with 126,020 Christmas trees arrived in the isles, according to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which inspects the ships upon arrival. Eleven containers were held for treatment — two had yellow jack wasps and nine had slugs.

I would say that the trip to the farm was part of the fun.

At the farm, there are also lovely, handmade Norfolk pine wreathes for $25 and homemade jellies (mountain apple, lilikoi and more) for $10.

Dogs on leashes are welcome at the farm, a wonderful part of the experience. Helemano Farms is at the end of Whitmore Ave. (turn right into the parking lot just before the military base). Hours are from noon to sunset Wednesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to sunset on weekends. Prices start at $45 and up for a Norfolk pine (starting at five-feet tall), and $60 and up for Leyland cypresses and other trees. You can also find Helemano Farms on Facebook.

More photos:






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About those fire ants

September 10th, 2014

So the last we heard, the invasive Little Fire Ants were in Mililani Mauka.

But keep your guard up, because who knows where they'll turn up next?

They might turn up in your neighborhood. When they were discovered in Waimanalo during the summer, only Waimanalo folks were concerned. As of now, the samples coming in (about 10 per week) are from Mililani. It's possible they may have gone undetected in Mililani for a few years.

The Little Fire Ants, originally from South America, not only deliver a painful sting, but can blind animals and reduce biodiversity. If these ants become established in Hawaii, they would be Hawaii's most devastating pest. Nesting seabirds and sea turtle hatchlings are also under threat. We do not want these to be established on our island. Small populations can still be eradicated if detected early enough.


Not to be confused with the tropical fire ant, the Little Fire Ant is half the size (one-sixtheenth of an inch or about as long as the width of a penny). For more information, visit

The Little Fire Ants were first discovered in Puna in 1999 and have since spread, hidden in plants, logs, green waste, gravel and sometimes, even cars. In December 2013, they were discovered in hapuu logs at nurseries and garden shops on Oahu and Maui, and in landscaping on Lanai. Most of the hapuu sold to the public remain unaccounted for.

What can you do about it?

Test your home and yard. You can do this by placing a thin smear of peanut butter on disposable chopsticks - place them every few feet in and around plants in your yard, garden and lanai. Focus on shady, moist areas, bottoms of pots and where plants' leaves meet the stem. Leave the sticks in place for one hour during the cool part of the day. Check the sticks without moving them, and collect if:

>> Ants are uniformly orange/red and very small.

>> If you're unsure about the ants.

As of right now, the Department of Agriculture is responding to every sample sent in. Better to have plenty of samples that turn out not to be Little Fire Ants than to miss opportunities to detect and eradicate them. We need to remain vigilant.

Place the ants directly into a zipock bag, seal, label with your name, address and phone number and freeze overnight. Here's a link to a brochure and video for further instructions.

Immediately report any suspected LFA to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture hotline 643-PEST.

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Invasive: Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

September 9th, 2014

The coconut rhinoceros beetle could potentially destroy Waikiki's coconut palms, changing its landscape forever. It's already been detected at Joint base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Not to be confused with other beetles also found in Hawaii. Photo of Department of Agriculture display by Nina Wu.

The coconut rhinoceros beetle could potentially destroy Waikiki's coconut palms, changing its landscape forever. It's already been detected at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Not to be confused with other beetles also found in Hawaii. Photo of Department of Agriculture display by Nina Wu.

Watch out for the coconut rhinoceros beetle!

The invasive beetle was first detected Dec. 23, 2013 on coconut trees at a golf course at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Now the U.S. Navy is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Hawaii at Manoa and Hawaii Department of Agriculture to monitor, trap and control them. Some 56 palms were removed at the base.

The beetles have also been detected at Barbers Point and Campbell Industrial Park.

If you've seen these lantern-like things hanging from trees around Oahu, those are coconut rhino beetle traps set out by the state Department of Agriculture. You can find a map of all Coconut Rhino Beetle monitoring efforts and activities here.


The large scarab beetle is native to Southeast Asia, was accidentally introduced from Sri Lanka to Samoa in 1909 and is now distributed throughout the South Pacific. The coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) is one of the most damaging pests for coconut palms, as well as for Hawaii's native, endangered loulu palms.

How did they get to Hawaii? We still don't know.

It is dark brown and measures 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches long. The larvae are white with a brown head. It can often be confused with other beetles present in Hawaii, including the Oriental flower beetle and mango flower beetle (both a little smaller). The largest beetle in the world, by the way, is the Goliath beetle (not in Hawaii, thankfully) which can weight 100 grams and grow to 20 centimeters long.

When looking for places to pupate (transforming from larvae to adult), the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle looks for a quiet, dark place, whether it be in someone's garage or laundry room, according to Rob Curtiss, acting state plant pest control branch manager. Adult rhino beetles are also active at night and can fly (shudder).

The beetles bore into the center of a palm tree's crown to feed on sap, cutting through developing leaves and causing damage to the fronds. Affected fronds grow with distinctive, V-shaped cuts.

If you suspect the presence of Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles on coconut and palms, report it to the PEST hotline, 643-PEST. Do not move potentially affected mulch or trimmings. If you see a dislodged CRB trap you can report it to a hotline, 832-0585 or email

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The infamous albizia

September 8th, 2014

A fallen Albizia tree in Hilo. Star-Advertiser file photo/ August 2013.

A fallen Albizia tree in Hilo. Star-Advertiser file photo/ August 2013.

By now, the albizia tree (Falcataria moluccana) has taken center stage in the list of invasive species the public is aware of and interested in eradicating.

Following the wrath of tropical storm Iselle, the alien tree species has been fingered as the culprit for toppled power lines and damage in Puna on the Big Island, as reported earlier in an Aug. 20 story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Officials estimated at least 90 percent of trees that caused damage in the Aug. 7 tropical storm were albizias, trees native to Indonesia that have shallow roots and brittle branches.

"It's not going to go away," said Tracy Johnson, a research entomologist for the U.S. Forest Reserve, who has been working to eradicate them for more than a decade. "There's no way we can remove every tree and be done with it. It's going to remain here, so we have to manage it. Ideally, what we would like to find is a biocontrol that can limit its ability to spread so the problem doesn't get any worst. We're hoping to find something that attacks the flowers, the fruit of the tree."

It's not the first time that it's happened, of course. In the aftermath of tropical storm Flossie last summer, an albizia tree in Hilo fell over, pictured above. An albizia fell over a residential street in Puna in 2010, destroying power ilnes and fences. Albizia trees fell over on Kauai in 2009, dropping on to cars and a house.

Most people probably did't notice the albizias before they fell. After all, they're not unsightly. They aren't on the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee's list of priority target pests.

Here are some facts about albizias:

>> The trees, native to Indonesia, were first introduced to Hawaii in 1917 by botanist Joseph Rock.

>> They were planted in Manoa valley to provide shade. On Oahu, they can  also be found along Pali and Likelike Highways, not an ideal situation.

>> They grow up to 150 feet, have weak wood and tend to grow top-heavy canopies that overwhelm native species. They dramatically increase inputs of nitrogen, displacing native trees.

Johnson  just received a $100,000 state grant to search for biocontrol agents that can help control the trees, but that's just the beginning to finding a solution, he said of a five to 10-year process or longer. He'll be searching for natural albizia enemies in Indonesia, the Soloman Islands and Papua New Guinea. Ideally, a biocontrol that attacks the albizia flowers to limits its ability to spread.

With a focus on protecting the native forests on Hawaii island, Johnson's work also involves efforts to eradicate other invasive trees and shrubs that take over quickly, choking out native trees and plants, such as:

>> Strawberry guava: Native to southeastern Brazil, brought to Hawaii in 1825 for its fruit and ornamental attributes. Occurs on all six of Hawaii's largest isles, poses a major threat to Hawaii's endemic flora and fauna. Forms impenetrable thickets and can alter water production and provide refuge for fruit flies.

>>  Miconia: On Hawaii's list of most invasive horticultural plants.  Originally from south and central America, this prolific seeder poses a threat to Oahu's forested watershed.

>> Clidemia: Also known as Koster's curse, this invasive shrub from central and South America forms dense thickets in tropical forest understories. It has spread to Oahu, the Big Island, Molokai, Maui, Kauai and Lanai.


Invasive Species Awareness Week

March 5th, 2014

The invasive coconut rhino beetle could destroy half of the state's coconut trees. Courtesy photo.

The invasive coconut rhino beetle could destroy half of the state's coconut trees. Courtesy photo.

Coqui frogs. Little fire ants. Coconut rhinoceros beetles.

You name it, we've got it here in Hawaii. We're talking about invasive species that can do great ecological and economic damage.

So on Monday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie kicked off the second annual Hawaii Invasive Species Awareness Week. It's an enormous problem for the state, high enough priority for Gov. Abercrombie, who has proposed up to $5 million to meet the operating costs of invasive species programs.

"We are experiencing a biological crisis involving a multitude of invaders ranging from the fire ant and coconut rhinoceros beetle, which can harm our animals and trees, to parasites attacking coffee crops," said Gov. Abercrombie in this year's State of the State address. "Each represents a deadly threat to our isolated ecosystem, natural resources, and economy, and I ask the public's engagement in addressing this menace."

Crowdsourcing seems to be the new trend in tracking invasive (as well as endangered) species these days. The state is asking people to participate in Hawaii Invasive Species Awareness Week by participating in efforts to survey all coconut trees  in the isles for the coconut rhinoceros beetle.

Adult rhino beetles bore into the crowns of coconut trees to drink the sap, leaving a distinctive v-shaped cut in the leaves when the fronds grow out. They could kill half the coconut trees in the state.

You can help by going to the Project Noah website or downloading the app. The Beetle Buster Team from the University of Hawaii will assess the presence or absence of the pest across the state.

There are also volunteer opportunities to combat invasive species across Hawaii:.

>> Help OISC remove invasive plants, Ardisia virens and Stromanthe tonckat at Lyon Arboretum 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 8. Email or call 286-4616. RSVP required.

>> Pull weeds on the offshore islet of Moku‘auia Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday, March 8. RSVP required.

>> Remove invasive manuka plants from Manana Trail 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Contact RSVP required.


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Saving Waikiki

February 12th, 2014


Volunteers are welcome to help remove three types of invasive algae from the reef behind Waikiki aquarium during public beach cleanups scheduled from February through October.

The Waikiki Aquarium recently received a $43,951 Community Restoration Partnership grant to continue its Waikiki Coastal Restoration efforts and research. The alien algae — Acanthophora spicifera, Gracilaria salicornia and Avrainvillea amadelpha — choke the reefs and crowd out native limu. They're considered a marine menace and threat to the beauty of Waikiki.

Beach cleanups will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, as well as on Saturdays, March 29, May 3, June 28 and Oct. 25.

"This grant allows us to further engage the public in our conservation efforts, which is a very important goal for us in 2014," said Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter. "We encourage everyone who has an interest in the ocean to join us for a rewarding Saturday morning out on the reef."

Volunteers will first  be trained on how to differentiate between invasive and native algae plants followed by hands-on removal experience on the reef using snorkels, paddleboards and buckets. Dr. Celia Smith and her team from the University of Hawaii Botany Department will provide the training. Starbucks and Diamond Bakery are providing coffee and snacks for volunteers.

Waikiki Aquarium's volunteers have removed thousands of pounds of invasive algae from the reef behind the aquarium over the decade in an effort to protect the native marine plants.

Other organizations, including Malama Maunalua, have also worked hard to remove invasive algae from Maunalua Bay (which stretches from Diamond Head to Koko Head) in East Oahu, with hopeful signs that the bay is being restored. Malama Maunalua also offers volunteer opportunities. On the windward side, a Super Sucker, a mobile underwater pump-vacuum, is used to remove invasive algae from Kaneohe Bay.

To voluteer for the Waikiki Coastal Restoration program, call the aquarium's volunteer office at 440-9020 or visit

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Stinging ants!

February 1st, 2014

The Little Fire Ant is an invasive stinging ant that was discovered Dec.  2013 on a hapuu (Hawaiian tree fern) at a nursery on Maui. The stinging ants have been found on plants sold at both Oahu and Maui garden shops. Courtesy photo.

The Little Fire Ant is an invasive stinging ant that was discovered Dec. 2013 on hapuu (Hawaiian tree fern) at Oahu and Maui garden shops. The state Department of Agriculture is urging the public to report any signs of the Little Fire Ants in their yards. Courtesy photo.

Oahu residents, watch out! The Oahu Invasive Species Committee and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is asking the public to help keep an eye out for the Little Fire Ant.

This tiny, orange ant is highly invasive and poses a threat to Oahu's economy, environment and quality of life, according to OISC. In case you haven't heard, they were first detected on Oahu in December 2013 on hapuu logs delivered from the Big Island.

Not to be confused with the tropical fire ant, these ants are smaller, measuring about 1/16th thick (about the width of a penny).  Originally from South America, Little Fire Ants like moist, shaded environments and tend to congregate in trees. With a little wind, the ants tend to "rain" down and deliver painful, lingering stings that leave welts. The ants were first detected in Puna in 1999. They pose a threat to Hawaii's agricultural workers as well as to ground, nesting birds and sea turtle hatchlings. They can also be a threat to pets – they have been known to sting pets in their eyes, leading to blindness, according to OISC.

Here is the New Pest Advisory from the agriculture department.

Reporting any sightings of the Little Fire Ants is critical to preventing the establishment of colonies here. Our columnist, Heidi Bornhorst, urges everyone to work together to eradicate the little fire ants. She offers some treatment tips, as well.

You can test for Little Fire Ants by smearing a thin coat of peanut butter on a chopstick, and place it near new soils, plants, mulch or other landscaping materials in your yard. After 45 minutes, if you find suspected Little Fire Ants on your chopstick, place them in a ziplock bag and freeze for 24 hours to kill them, and call the state Department of Agriculture at 643-PEST.

A documentary film on Little Fire Ants by the Maui Invasive Species Committee premiered in Honolulu on Jan. 13.

Invasive Species Info on the Web

May 23rd, 2013

The Brown Tree Snake is an invasive species in the state of Hawaii. In Guam, the snake is believed to have been accidentally introduced hidden in cargo and has decimated bird populations there. Photo from

The Brown Tree Snake is an invasive species in the state of Hawaii. In Guam, the snake is believed to have been accidentally introduced hidden in cargo and has decimated bird populations there. Photo from

What do the Africanized Honey Bee, Brown Tree Snake, Cattails, Coqui Frogs and Wood Rose have in common? They are all considered high-profile invasive species in Hawaii.

If you spot one of them, you should report it right away to the Pest Hotline at 808-643-PEST. You can also report a pest online and find all the information you need at Hawaii's new one-stop shop website at


Coqui frogs have invaded the Big Island. From

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council and University of Hawaii launched the new website, which also details funded projects, reports to the state legislature and Hawaii's coqui frog management plan.

Invasive species are a big problem in Hawaii due to the state's geographic isolation. Hawaii's native plant and animal species (those that arrived here naturally via wind, waves and birds) have little defense against competitive species.

The results can be really destructive to Hawaii's natural ecosystem. Miconia, an invasive plant from South America, for example, overtakes forests and prevents the growth of other plants, causing erosion. The Brown Tree Snake decimated bird populations on Guam. If you've been on the Big Island at dusk, you've probably heard the chorus of Coqui frogs, which chirrup annoyingly from dusk to dawn, but also disrupt the balance of vulnerable native ecosystems.

While the Brown Tree Snake is not known to be present in Hawaii at this time, eight were discovered in the state between 1981 and 1998, mostly likely carried here in civilian and military vehicles or cargo from Guam.

The Wood Rose, with its yellow flowers, can be seen in many Hawaii yards, but the woody, climbing vine is considered invasive and chokes and smothers plants.

Click here to see a quick list of invasives in Hawaii.

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Invasive Species Awareness Week

March 1st, 2013

Quiz: Strawberry guava — invasive or non-invasive?

Strawberry guava is an invasive species in Hawaii. Learn more during Hawaii Invasive Species Awareness Week March 4 to 10. Photo from

Strawberry guava is an invasive species in Hawaii. Learn more during Hawaii Invasive Species Awareness Week March 4 to 10. Photo from

Answer: Invasive.

Though we see plenty of strawberry guava during our hikes on Oahu as well as in people's yards, strawberry guava, which was introduced to Hawaii from Brazil in 1825, is an invasive species that invades native forests. With no natural enemies or competitors in the isles, strawberry guava forms dense thickets replacing native Hawaiian plants and damages the watershed.

What are invasive species?

Invasive species are 1) Harmful to the environment, economy and/or human health and 2) Not native to the area in which it is presenting a problem.

The first Hawai‘i Invasive Species Awareness Week takes place from Monday (March 4) to March 10.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie kicks off the week with a proclamation at 10 a.m. Monday at the state Capitol, followed by an awards ceremony to honor individuals and groups that have made a difference in protecting Hawaii from invasive species.

See the full list of honorees at

During the week, join Hawaii Bioblitz's mission to find out what's living in your backyard. The public is invited to submit photos of plants and animals in Hawaii and to post them to the project website. More than 30 local experts are volunteering to help the public identify the plants and animals in their photos, and determine whether they are native, non-native or invasive species. Go to for more information.

Want to do more to combat invasive species?

There are volunteer opportunities across the state, which include managing invasive plants on Mauna Kea (Saturday, March 2) or helping with the Manoa Cliff forest restoration (Sunday, March 3). You can also help remove invasive species at Lyon Arboretum  or pull invasive algae from Oahu's fishponds on Saturday (March 9). You can also pull weeds in the Alakai bog on Kauai.

Click here for a list of invasive species awareness week events.

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Yoga, then Huki (invasive algae clearing)

January 18th, 2013

Malama Maunalua has been clearing Maunalua Bay of invasive algae, along with other projects. PHoto of Maunalua Bay from

Malama Maunalua has been clearing Maunalua Bay of invasive algae, along with other environmental projects. Help "Huki" tomorrow morning (Saturday) at Paiko Dr. Photo of Maunalua Bay from

If you're looking for something to do tomorrow (Saturday) morning, then why not yoga and some invasive algae clearing on a beautiful coastline?

Malama Maunalua invites the public to bring family and friends to its Paiko Drive "Huki" from 8 a.m. to noon tomorrow (Jan. 19).

First, to get focused, enjoy power yoga from 8 to 9:15 a.m. with Lehua Kai at Kuliouou Beach Park, then head over to Paiko Drive at 9:30 a.m. for the Huki, which means to "pull" or "remove" invasive algae from Maunalua Bay.

Invasive algae has invaded roughly 200 acres at Maunalua Bay, suffocating native coral and killing the reef. Malama Maunalua, a non-proift, has been working on removing the algae and monitoring the bay on a regular basis for the past few years.

Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. Participants should also bring a reusable water bottle, dress in clothes that can get wet and dirty. Call Malama Maunalua at 395-5050 if you have questions.

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