Dept. of Transportation looks to native plants to beautify freeway hillsides

Published: Sep. 2, 2009 at 10:35 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 3, 2009 at 1:33 PM HST
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Chris Dacus
Chris Dacus
Joseph DeFrank
Joseph DeFrank

By Leland Kim - bio | email

MANOA (KHNL) -     A partnership between the state Department of Transportation and the University of Hawaii helps beautify our roadways, while saving some money at the same time.  It's an innovative way of using science to make Hawaii "green."

Traffic on the H-1 can sometimes make us forget we live in Hawaii.  And if you stop to look around, mounds of dirt and dead, dry brush line the freeway.

The Department of Transportation wants to change that. It sought the help of the University of Hawaii to find out how we can spruce up our hillsides.

"So the invasive species, the Africanized grasses, come into the environment, they crowd out the native plants, and eliminate habitats where our native birds and animals would normally be surviving," said Dr. Joseph DeFrank, University of Hawaii's weed scientist.

That's why they're looking to replace this with more durable native plants.

"Well, pili grass grows very well in this very dry environment," said Chris Dacus, Department of Transportation's landscape architect.  "There aren't that many plants that are this drought tolerant to be honest with you."

Drought tolerant and economical. they're about twenty times cheaper regular grass.  Another resilient plant is a native sedge called akiaki.

These men go row by row, harvesting this native plant.

After that's done, inside the bag, what looks like dust is actually native plant seeds. From here, they're dried and ready for a hydro-mulch operation.

The goal is to transform our state highway hillsides.

"We will do less herbicides, less mowing, there will be less emissions from using power equipment from the side of our highways," said Dacus.

As native plants start to flourish, our wildlife areas will begin to better absorb water into the soil.

"Be less of a fire hazard, so that we don't see the wild burnings that we see on the Waianae coast," said DeFrank.

And the added bonus is, this will help beautify our islands.

"When you visit somewhere, you want to go somewhere because it's unique," said Dacus.  "And you want to see the thing that is truly the character, the quintessential Hawaii. this is quintessential Hawaii, what we're doing here."

The DOT hopes to fill 2,500 miles of hillsides with native plants.  Their next challenge is to develop a viable seed bank.