The Kukui Tree in Decline

Kukui Tree Amy Greenwell Garden
(Photo by Noa Lincoln)

Kukui (candlenut, Aleurites moluccanus), our state tree, is in a major state of decline finds a new paper by Friends board member Noa Lincoln. Using remote sensing techniques and historical aerial imagery, Noa and colleagues found that kukui canopy cover is declining by ~10% per decade, having lost nearly 60% of kukui across the state since 1950. 

Kukui canopy coverage Big Island, Hawaii
FIGURE 3. Examples comparing the 1950s imagery (left) to the modern imagery (right) in Wahiawa, O'ahu (A, B) and Kīpahulu, Maui (C, D)
Kukui canopy coverage Big Island, Hawaii
FIGURE 1. The remotely sensed extent of Kukui crown canopy in Hawai'i. Polygons are outlined to enhance visibility, making the total area look inflated. Stars represent the locations of the historical imagery analysis.

The work also provides strong evidence that the distribution of kukui in Hawai’i’s forest closely approximates the extent of forest alteration by Native Hawaiians before European contact, suggesting a much larger footprint — about six times larger — of indigenous cultivators on the land than previously recognized. This knowledge brings new significance to kukui as the logo of the Friends. 


Words by Noa Lincoln

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