Rapid ohia death fungus detected in Waianae mountain range for the first time

Officials are reminding those attending the Merrie Monarch Festival to not leave Hawaii Island with any Ohia products to prevent the disease from spreading.
Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 2:22 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 11, 2023 at 6:52 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A deadly fungus that impacts native ohia trees was recently detected for the first time in the Waianae mountain range on Oahu, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said.

The disease, known as rapid ohia death, had previously been limited within the Koolau range on the island.

Officials said the infected tree was found during invasive species surveys conducted by the Oahu Invasive Species Committee.

OISC said the 40-foot ohia tree was exhibiting symptoms of ROD and a sample was taken and sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service lab in Hilo for analysis.

That’s where scientists confirmed that Ceratocystis huliohia, the less aggressive of two fungal strains that cause ROD, was present.

A team from the DLNR and OISC then returned to the fallen tree to prevent the spread of infected material.

Officials said although Ceratocystis huliohia is less aggressive, it can still be fatal to ohia trees. The state added the more aggressive ROD species, Ceratocystis lukuohia, is currently limited to Hawaii Island and Kauai.

Meanwhile, the DLNR said another discovery in Kaneohe brings the total positive ROD detections on Oahu to 12 — six on residential properties and six in forested, wildland areas.

The state said residents and visitors can help protect remaining ohia forests by thoroughly cleaning their shoes and other gear when hiking, washing your vehicle and by not moving the plant or injuring it.

Thousands of people across the state are Hilo-bound this week for the 60th Anniversary of the Merrie Monarch Festival and all that travel creates a risk to native forests.

The State Department of Agriculture wants competitors and fans to do their part to stop the spread of the disease.

“Rapid Ohia Death is a very devastating fungal disease that affects Ohia trees across the state, particularly on Hawaii Island,” said Jonathan Ho, Plant Quarantine Import and Compliance Section Chief for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

“What we want folks to know, particularly for Merrie Monarch is to be very aware of if they have Ohia products from Hawaii Island, to make sure that they don’t leave Hawaii Island with those products to ensure that they don’t spread the disease,” Ho explained.

The disease has already killed an estimated 1 million Ohia trees on Hawaii Island alone.

Quarantine restrictions are in place on transport of any Ohia plants and plant parts including flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, twigs, cuttings, untreated wood, logs, mulch and greenwaste.

Agricultural inspectors will be at the Hilo and Kona airports to collect any of that material. It’s then respectfully returned to the native forests on Hawaii Island.

“People getting access to information and educating themselves and then educating others is really the best way to ensure that the disease doesn’t go across, spread across the state,” Ho said.

It’s important to follow the quarantine laws for the health of our forest but breaking these restrictions also comes with some potential consequences. You could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined between $100 or even up to $10,000 for a first offense. Those fines and possible jail time only go up from there after a second offense.

The department of agriculture says there are a lot of ways to be careful and responsible when you travel.

Dead or unhealthy ohia trees with reddish or brown leaves attached can be reported by submitting a photo at: www.643PEST.org or emailing a photo to the Oahu Invasive Species Committee at oisc@hawaii.edu.

To learn more about rapid Ohia death, click here.