Tropical Gardening: Conservation and propagation top topics now

Last week saw a big gathering of conservation folks during the 25th annual Hawaii Conservation Conference on Oahu. It is now followed by the International Plant Propagators Society meeting in Honolulu.

From Tuesday through Saturday (July 31-Aug. 4), the society will be at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona, and will be visiting local nurseries and gardens. The focus will be propagation of our native plants as well as unique non-native species.

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If you are interested in getting involved in the presentations and tours, check out the IPPS 2018 conference website for details.

The IPPS has more than a thousand members from all around the world. Attending annual conferences gives commercial propagators and others interested the opportunity to share new methods of propagating rare and endangered species.

Many of Hawaii’s endemic plants are threatened. Even with all the rhetoric about saving rain forests, we could lose much of our beloved ohia because of disease and climate change. Challenges such as these are found worldwide.

Conservation groups, researchers and plant societies such as the IPPS are working together for solutions. For example, plant propagators and researchers are seeking ways to produce disease-resistant strains of ohia.

There will be tours around the island to Hilo and south through Ka‘u. Among the tours coming up on Friday (Aug. 3) will be a visit to the unique Kona Cloud Forest.

This narrow strip of forest running from Makalei to the lava fields of South Kona depends on the daily cloud mists that form from 2,000-5,000 foot elevation. When the moist air rises each day, it is cooled by cloud forest trees, creating rain.

If forest is destroyed by humans, animals or volcanic activity, precipitation is reduced by as much as 40 percent. This can affect the fresh water aquifer, reducing available water to makai homes, gardens, hotels and golf courses.

The Friday tour will take participants to visit Kaloko Mauka, above Kailua-Kona, and the garden of Dean Ouer, where participants will see an excellent collection of tropical Vireya rhododendron and palms.

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 tree ferns, some of which are 30 feet or more in height. These ferns can be more than 100 years old since the trunks only grow 2 to 3 inches per year.

The native forest contains many rare and endangered species that 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 forest, the tour will take participants on a visit of the 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary.

Fifteen acres previously in pasture were set aside for testing palms, tree ferns, bamboos, bromeliads and other plant materials. Observations are being made as to their adaptability for reforestation, agricultural and landscape use. Sixty acres are being preserved in native forest.

Kaloko Mauka is the home of the Hawaiian hawk, apapane, iiwi, elepaio, amakihi and many other endemic and exotic birds. Kaloko Mauka was identified as essential wildlife habitat and forest watershed.

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The tour also will include nurseries such as Hawaiian Gardens, Greenwell Coffee Farms, Mountain Thunder Coffee Co. and the Cellier family vanilla farm, where propagation and plant culture will be discussed.

Cloud forests include not only trees but understory palms, bromeliads, orchids, ferns and bamboos. Many are endangered because of the destruction caused by climate change and human activities. Fortunately, Hawaii is becoming a kind of Noah’s Ark of rare species thanks to the efforts of conservation and plant groups such as the IPPS, International Palm Society and societies focused on bamboo, orchids, rhododendrons and other plants too numerous to list here.