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Norman Bezona Prof emeritus University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture

Norman Bezona
Prof emeritus
University of Hawaii
College of Tropical Agriculture

If you want to learn more about all the amazing uses of bamboo and how to grow them, you are invited to join the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society, at noon Sunday July 24th at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka. The Address is 73-1865 Hao Street and is adjacent to Mountain Thunder Coffee Mill. Just use your GPS or call Jacqui Marlin, president, at 966-5380 for meeting details. It is a potluck, so bring your favorite dish.

Over a hundred species of bamboo have been planted at the Sanctuary to test their adaptability. Even though most species are at their best in sunnier and wetter locations like East Hawaii, many high elevation species are doing quite well in Kaloko Mauka.

IMG_2158Global warming is no longer a theory and is being accepted as fact by most scientists and governments. This will affect our Islands by causing more extremes like drought, floods and severe storms. We may not be able to do much about other parts of the world, but here at home we as individuals are either part of the solution or part of the problem. If each one of us on the Big Island, plant only 10 clumps of bamboo or trees this year, we will have planted over one million! That can make a big difference, since trees and tree like bamboos not only produce oxygen, they supply shade, act as windbreaks and lock up the carbon that is the main cause of global warming. Some of the best bamboos for that purpose are the giant Dendrocalamus that can reach heights of one hundred feet and more. Many species of clumping bamboo like the genus Bambusa are much shorter and better for smaller gardens. There are some species that range from a few inches to several feet and fit well in miniature landscapes.

Since there are more than 1200 species of bamboo it’s a good idea to get in the know with the Bamboo Society!

Many of Hawaii’s forests and forest watersheds are threatened, even with all the rhetoric about saving rainforests. We just returned from Borneo where native forests are being cleared for agriculture. Not much can be done to stop foreign governments from forest destruction, but we can do a lot to protect and plant forests here.

In East Hawaii, many ohia forest areas are subdivided into small lots of one to three acres. 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. One exception is the Kaloko Mauka forest. This is one of the most accessible native forests in West Hawaii. It, among other high elevation areas of Hawaii, is being developed for agriculture and residential activities. However, county planners are making an effort to encourage developers and landowners to protect the forest by placing requirements that the lots remain in forest. The county is also requiring a forest management plan and is allowing owners to dedicate to native forest or tree crops, thus reducing the tax burden. Information on how to apply for agriculture and conservation dedications may be obtained from the Hawaii County tax office.

Some developers are concerned about forest protection and are incorporating these requirements into their plans. They have set an example of Hawaiian land stewardship that others throughout the county are beginning to follow. Although the main plantings are Eucalyptus species, it is hoped they will also continue efforts to include other species like Koa for long range high quality forest products. Those folks opposed to Eucalyptus might consider that this genus is very closely related to Ohia. Our native honeycreepers utilize the nectar of these trees as well as our native species.

In West Hawaii, much of Kaloko Mauka is still covered with native forest. Although it is sparsely populated, the gardens of residents are a fascinating mixture of Hydrangeas, Hoawa, Calatheas, Camellias, Koa and Kopiko. The area abounds with ancient Ohia (Meterosideros polymorpha) and gigantic treeferns, some of which are 30 feet or more in height. These ferns may be over 100 years old since the trunks only grow 2 to 3 inches per year. The native forest contains many rare and endangered species which local residents are committed to protect through the Hawaii Forest Stewardship Program. This program allows residents to dedicate and manage their properties to enhance this important and unique watershed. It is administered through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry Division.

In the heart of the subdivision, the seventy acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary has been set aside for testing palms, treeferns, bamboos, bromeliads and other plant materials. Observations are being made as to their adaptability for reforestation, agricultural and landscape use. Most of the sanctuary is preserved in native forest. The mauka five acres was damaged by grazing and removal of ohia and hapu’u in the 1960’s and so has been reforested in native and non native trees to create a pan tropical forest. The upper ten acres portion was totally cleared in the past and is now reforested as a montane tropical forest and includes Koa, Ohia and conifers from the high tropics.

Efforts at the Sanctuary are to protect and preserve native plants and animals. At the same time, the Sanctuary is testing and utilizing non indigenous plant materials that are “environmentally friendly”. That is, plants that will not displace native plants, but are able to exist in harmony, adding fruit, fragrance, and color where it is desired.

Kaloko Mauka is the home of the Hawaiian Hawk, Apapane, Iiwi, Elepaio, Amakihi and many other endemic and exotic birds. Kaloko Mauka has been identified as essential wildlife habitat and forest watershed. It is the goal of 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 activities. This is essential if our island is to have the rainfall and watershed needed to supply communities at lower elevations.

Some folks feel that East Hawaii has plenty of rain, so forests are not necessary. However, forests are like big sponges. They slow down flooding rains, and give up moisture so that streams continue to run when rainfall is light. Without forests, flooding and drought as well as severe erosion becomes the norm. Also, grassy weeds are notorius fire hazards during drought times.

Tropical forests include not only trees but under story palms, bromeliads, orchids, ferns and bamboos. Many palms world wide are endangered due to the destruction of rainforests. Fortunately, Hawaii is becoming a kind of Noah’s Ark thanks to the efforts of the Hawaii Island Palm Society, Bamboo Society, Orchid Societies, Rhododendron Society and other concerned groups.

Not only is it vital to protect our remaining Hawaiian forests, but to reforest those abandoned cane lands of Hamakua, Puna, Kau and Kohala with biodiverse forests thus ensuring valuable resources for future generations.

For further information on forest planting and management, please contact UH Extention Forester, J.B. Friday at 808-959-8254 or jbfriday@hawaii.edu.

For general gardening questions, you may contact the Master Gardeners in the Hilo and Kona UH College of Tropical Agriculture Extension offices.