Palm Society hosts Scott Nelson Nov. 15


The Hawaii Chapter of the International Palm Society is hosting a public program on palm diseases, pests, care and everything else you’d ever want to know about palms grown here. Scott Nelson will present the program at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus, 200 West Kawili St., Room 100. For details, call 333-5626.

When folks around the world think about Hawaii, they picture coconut palm-lined beaches. In reality, we have much more than that. Hawaii is a Noah’s Ark of rare palms. We have more of the 5,000 species of palms growing here than anywhere else in the U.S. South Florida comes in a close second, but occasional cold spells limit them from growing some tropical species. Here we can grow the delicate species as well as those requiring cool mountain or desert conditions. More palms are being discovered and tested in Hawaii each year because of efforts of nurserymen such as Jeff Marcus and the International Palm Society. Their purpose is to educate folks to propagate, grow and distribute species that are becoming endangered because of human destruction of the tropical forests. Many of these species will find their way to Hawaii and someday be found in our botanical gardens and community landscapes.

The International Palm Society meets every other year. In past years, the meetings have been held in Thailand, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, France, Florida, California and Hawaii. To learn more about palms, visit exotic locations and help save threatened species, you can join the Hawaii Chapter that meets regularly throughout the year. Activities include palm and seed exchanges, garden tours and palm auctions. Visit hawaiiislandpalmsociety.com for details.

I returned from a palm meeting in the Peruvian Amazon in time to attend a palm garden tour in Kaloko Mauka. The 3-acre garden at approximately 2,500 foot elevation was a fantastic planting of rare palms incorporated into the native forest. Gardens like this one bring a world of rare and endangered species to us before they are destroyed through clearing, logging and mining such as I saw in Peru.

Hawaii’s forests and forest watersheds are threatened as well, even with all the rhetoric about saving rain forests. In East Hawaii, many forest areas are subdivided into small lots of 1 to 3 acres and unless the owners of the land really commit to protecting the forested lots, they are bulldozed and flattened. In West Hawaii, the same situation occurs with private lands being subdivided and cleared. An exception is the Kaloko cloud forest, which is one of the most accessible cloud forests in West Hawaii. It is being developed for agriculture and residential activities. However, county planners are making an effort to encourage developers to protect the forest watershed by placing requirements that the lots remain forested. The county is also requiring a forest management plan and allowing owners to dedicate to native forest or tree crops, thus reducing the tax burden.

Efforts in the Kaloko Mauka community are underway to protect and preserve native plants and animals. Use of nonindigenous plant materials that are rare or threatened, but will not displace native plants, is encouraged to add fruit, fragrance and color where they are desired.

Kaloko Mauka is home to the Hawaiian hawk, apapane, iiwi, elepaio, amakihi and other endemic birds. Cloud forests differ from tropical rain forests in that a substantial amount of precipitation is derived from mists that condense on the trees and drip to the forest floor. When trees are removed, rainfall decreases substantially.

It is the goal of many residents of Kaloko Mauka to set an example that they can live in harmony with the forest and still have homes and some “forest friendly” agriculture. This is essential if our island is to have the rainfall and watershed needed to supply communities at lower elevations.

The Kaloko Mauka area is ideally suited to mountain cloud forest palm species, yet there are presently no native palms in the area, other than those planted by residents. Species of loulu and the endemic Pritchardia affinis are found as isolated specimens in Kona. Pritchardia schattaueri is found at 2,000 feet to the south at Honomolino and Pritchardia beccariana is growing up to 4,000 feet on the east slope of Mauna Loa. These and many other rare palms are now grown in Kaloko Mauka.