Taking Action to Support Hawaiian Plants

Plant Pono, an environmental agency working with local farmers, aims to curb the spread of invasive plants and support native Hawaiian plants.

Plant Pono is an environmental agency working with local farmers to regulate the distribution of Hawaiian plants. The Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC) oversees the Plant Pono program on the Big Island. BIISC and Plant Pono endorse companies that promote sustainable landscaping to prevent the spread of invasive species. Many believe that the distribution of invasive species such as Coqui Frogs and Fire Ants is accelerated by invasive plants.


Hawaiian Lily (Dianella sandwicensis). Credit: University of Hawaii Museum Consortium

Waimea grower Kari Hagerman of Pomaikai Plant Company has developed a two-step process to address this issue:

First, they (plants) are quarantined and tested for ants and frogs in Hilo before they are put on the truck. Then after they are delivered to the nursery in Waimea, they are quarantined and tested again.

The Pomaikai Plant Company refuses to market any of their produce until it has been officially declared pest-free.


Aloalo (Hibiscus arnottianus) is endemic to the island Oahu. Credit: Jeremiah Boyle

Other Plant Pono farmers prevent the spread of invasive species on an individual scale. Farmers market vendor Michael Gibson of Elemental Foods always carries peanut butter with him to use as bait for invasive Fire Ants on his plants. All Plant Pono farmers are deeply committed to the Plant Pono initiative and prove that any contribution, no matter how small, is important in preventing the spread of invasive species.

Brad Belmarez of Aikane Nursery acknowledges the destructive capacity of invasive species and the ecological benefits of native Hawaiian plants. Belmarez encourages the use of native plants in local Hawaiian landscape and works with his customers to identify suitable plants for specific environments. Belmarez comments:

Most people don’t know much about native plants, or how well adapted they are to our local conditions.


Mamaki (Pipturus albidus) is a small shrub noted for attracting 2 endemic butterflies, the Koa and Kamehamaha Butterfly. Credit: Jupiter Nielsen

Belmarez and other Plant Pono farmers recognize the adaptive advantages native plants have over other species. Selecting a Hawaiian plant positively contributes to the overall health of the natural environment by ensuring that limited natural resources are utilized by native plants and not exploited by invasive species. Some farmers like Michael Gibson recognize the integral role native plants play in establishing a relationship between people and the land. By supporting Hawaiians in reconnecting with the land, Plant Pono is creating a more sustainable future for Hawaii.


Leaves of the native Maile (Alyxia stellata) are used for leis. Credit: David Elckhoff

Plant Pono has also created public platforms so that Hawaiians can individually contribute to invasive species prevention. BIISC and Plant Pono have compiled a list of over 775 invasive plants to avoid planting, including New Zealand flax, Mexican Flame Vine, Night Blooming Jasmine, and the Australian Tree Fern. Plant Pono has also developed the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment, a screening process that calculates the potential risk of introduced and invasive species. If a plant scores a 6 or higher it is considered a threatening species.

Programs such as Plant Pono show that working taking action within small communities to mitigate invasive species impacts can truly make a meaningful difference.

Featured photo: Koki’o ke’oke’o–Hibiscus flower. Credit: Kenton Sanchez
Source: West Hawaii Today

About Dylan Meek

Dylan Meek is an undergraduate student at UCSC pursuing a major in marine biology. During her time as a student, she has become interested in conservation, and hopes to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. She has been enamored with nature her whole life, and enjoys spending her free time outdoors or in the ocean.

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