Christmas tree project branching out

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Glenn Sako plants a Douglas fir seedling in 2016 during the Aina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration and Plant Workshop on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands land on Mauna Kea.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald In this 2016 photo, approximately 450 Douglas fir seedlings were planted during the Aina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration and Plant Workshop on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands land on Mauna Kea.

An ongoing project to develop a viable Christmas tree farming industry on the Big Island has moved closer to fruition this year with more species of trees planted.

The Aina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration Project, an initiative by the Hawaii Forest Institute, has planted several stands of Douglas fir trees at multiple high-altitude Big Island locations since 2014. At the beginning of 2018, however, the project expanded to include several dozen other tree species planted at lower altitudes.

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So far, those low-altitude specimens — including several species of cedar, cypress, and pine — appear to be growing well, said Hawaii Agricultural Research Center horticulturist Aileen Yeh.

“I think the ones that survive might actually grow here faster than somewhere else,” Yeh said.

The high-elevation trees — particularly the first-planted grove, which is located on a remote Maunakea hillside — seem less-than-ideally suited for the Hawaii climate, as their growth appears slower than their typical growth rates in more temperate states. Yeh said some of the 2014 plantings have grown to approximately five feet tall, but for the most part, it will likely take another several years before they can be harvested.

Yeh said this year’s rainy weather has also hampered the project somewhat. The remote location of the first 2014 planting makes it nearly inaccessible at the most clement of times; with heavy rains, Yeh said, it is impossible to reach, meaning the project has not been able to check up on the health of the trees as frequently, or remove weeds that might choke the trees.

However, Yeh said the majority of the trees still appear to be in good health despite the weather.

The project exists primarily to protect Hawaii’s fragile ecosystem from invasive pests that arrive to the island in shipments of Christmas trees from the Pacific Northwest. By growing trees on the mainland using imported seeds, the project avoids transporting parasites and will hopefully provide trees to residents at much lower prices when they are mature.

While the upper-elevation trees are planted on Department of Hawaiian Homeland trust lands, the lower-elevation trees are raised on land owned by private farmers and landowners.

Other landowners interested in raising Christmas trees are encouraged to attend a Nov. 2 meeting in Hilo at the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry Office.

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Attendees to the meeting will be able to share their tree-growing experiences and learn about how to care for Christmas trees, although space at the meeting will be limited.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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