Experts: Albizia trees are 'menace', pose serious threat statewide

Experts: Albizia trees are 'menace', pose serious threat statewide
Published: Aug. 19, 2014 at 5:49 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 19, 2014 at 6:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the aftermath of Iselle, environmental experts say the devastation caused by toppling albizias throughout Puna should serve as an important warning about the danger these trees pose across the state.

From Hawaiian Paradise Park to Kapoho, the destruction caused by albizias is staggering.

"There's areas where it looks like a giant has come through with a weed-whacker," said Springer Kaye, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species committee.

Officials say in the aftermath of Iselle, it's clear albizias were the major cause of storm damage.

"We understand now, that if albizia wasn't here -- if ohia was the dominant tree species, in and around the communities in Puna -- we would be dealing with a fraction of the destruction," explained Flint Hughes, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

The invasive species was first introduced in the 1920's to provide shade. Experts say they're becoming more prevalent on the islands of Oahu and Kauai -- where a significant growth of trees popped up after Hurricane Iniki.

"If that same hurricane hit today with the populations of albizia that are now there, the destruction would have been much greater," said Hughes.

The trees grow up to an inch a day, but they're weak and brittle and in a storm, they splinter and crack like toothpicks. Officials say the trees are a menace, not just because they can grow more than 200 feet, but how easily they spread.

Experts say one of the biggest problems with albizias is the fact they create their own fertilizer and when they're ripped from the ground it stimulates seedlings and causes regeneration.

"One of the key messages is not to bulldoze your property if you can avoid it. Take down the trees that are problem trees and when you cut the tree down and leave the stump in place and leave the surrounding vegetation it will prevent seedling regeneration. The seedlings are intolerant of shade, they need full sunlight. If you leave other plants in place, you can really suppress albizia's from coming on your property," said Kay.

Officials say being pro-active is the best way to save your property, but if you can't cut trees down -- then don't take any chances the next time a storm passes through, just evacuate.

"That's probably the smartest thing to do because no matter what. Nothing is more valuable than your own life and the lives of your family," said Hughes.

Experts say the best way to prevent extensive destruction like that seen in Puna is to identify critical infrastructures and remove hazardous albizia trees from those areas immediately.

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