Saturday 7 November 2020 was Arbor Day Hawai’i and also the date of the Friends first Annual Membership Meeting since purchasing the Garden from Bishop Museum in 2019. Arbor Day is an international celebration (www.arborday.org) dedicated to honoring, planting, and enjoying the benefits of trees. Some version of Arbor Day has been celebrated in the Islands for 110 years!
In the past, Amy Greenwell Garden has participated in Arbor Day tree giveaways, but this year due to new ownership of the Garden by the Friends, and the impact of COVID-19, the Garden was unable to do a traditional tree giveaway. However, the Friends were awarded a grant to air-layer the many ‘ulu (breadfruit) trees in the Garden, and this project will result in a few hundred keiki ‘ulu that the Friends will donate to homeowners to plant on their properties and for educational purposes for future generations to enjoy. We love trees!
The Garden is populated with many trees, both native (indigenous) and introduced (e.g. Kukui, ‘ulu, coconut palm) and even some very rare and endangered trees. One such endangered tree in the Garden is the Big Island’s own “Dr. Seuss” tree, the hala pepe (Chrysodracon hawaiiensis). Each of the 6 endemic (found only on that island) hala pepe species are found on different Hawaiian Islands.
The genus name is derived from “chryso” meaning “gold” and “dracon” meaning “dragon”, referring to the golden shower flower display of the tree (see photo). The leaves of the hala pepe are reminiscent of the hala (Pandanus) tree, but these trees are not related. The hala pepe is one of the five plants that were sacred to the hula altar.
Trees cool the climate with their shade, break the wind with their leaves and branches, provide organic material to improve the soil by shedding their leaves, branches, fruits, etc., and their roots help stabilize soil. Perhaps most importantly, the leaves of trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and use it to create their own energy and grow their biomass. The gases carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are the primary cause of our continually-heating-up climate, and lowering these gases in the atmosphere is the fastest way to control climate change (www.climate.nasa.gov). Like all plants, trees also release oxygen back into the atmosphere during photosynthesis, a molecule essential to life!
In the Spring of 2020, the Friends finalized a Community Forest Management Plan for the 3 main parcels of the Garden, after being awarded a grant from the USDA Forest Service Community Forest Program that helped to purchase these 3 parcels. This was the first award of such a grant in the Pacific Island region and marked a recognition by the federal program that traditional agroforestry appropriate for Pacific Islands fits under this federal forest program. One of the Friends’ commitments under this program is to maintain 75% of the 3 main Garden parcels in forest/agroforest in perpetuity. The Friends also agreed to provide public access and to update the Community Forest Management Plan every 5 years. The Friends are proud that the Garden is the first Community Forest in the Hawaiian Islands and in the Pacific!
Words by Marie Morin, Ph.D.