UH launches campaign to revive Hawaii's ohia tree population

UH launches campaign to revive Hawaii's ohia tree population
File image of the ohia tree with fungus
File image of the ohia tree with fungus

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By Kayla Yamamoto

With its vibrant red and yellow Lehua blossom and lush canopy, Hawaii's ohia trees cover more than one million acres statewide.

Its large canopy provides shelter and protection to many of Hawaii's native birds, shrubs, and smaller trees. Its canopy plays an important role in recharging Hawaii's water supply.

In Hawaiian culture, the ohia tree represents the jealousy of Pele, goddess of fire. The Lehua blossom of the ohia tree also carries symbolic value in this legend and is often implemented in hula performances.

Because of the cultural and environmental implications of Hawaii's native ohia tree, it is easy to see why it is often recognized as the most important tree in Hawaii.

In 2010, the earliest signs of the fungal disease known as Rapid Ohia Death (ROD) became apparent, and since has continued to make its way into Hawaii forests threatening the native ohia tree population—along with Hawaii's ecosystems, water supply, and culture.

"We think we started seeing it spreading in 2010, by 2012 there were hundreds of trees dying, by 2014 there were tens of thousands, and now we're talking hundreds of thousands or millions of trees," said JB Friday, extension forester with the UH Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

Because of the devastating effects implied by the steep decline and possible extinction of ohia trees in Hawaii, it is imperative for us to take action in protecting our precious resource before it is too late.

This month, the University of Hawaii's Seed Conservation Laboratory launched a campaign to fund the collection of ohia seeds in an effort to prevent future extinction.

The process includes the collection of native ohia seeds on Hawaii Island, along with studies—involving professional field botanists, UH/USDA scientists, and Seed Conservation Lab staff—to identify the most effective measures for seed collection, storage, and reintroduction.

In the first four days of the campaign launch, $5,000 of the $35,000 goal has been raised.  Visit the campaign website to receive additional information on how you can do your part in making this effort a successful one.

For more information go to: gofundme.com/ohialove.

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