Wandering and weeding along forest trails of Koke'e this summer, I've found myself ever more deeply loving the very common native plants that make up so much of a healthy Hawaiian forest. Shiny purple 'uku'uki berries sparkle in the sun, their spear-like foliage green as ever, in spite of a dry summer. The light green naupaka kuahiwi, their keiki coming up abundantly every where we've weeded, the 'a'ali'i seedings, the orange-fruiting pilo- these are the sturdy maka‘ainana of the forest.
Our focus on "endangered species" is a fairly new thing, something that has only sprung up since environmental concern and legislation from the 1970s forward. Nothing wrong with studying and saving rare plants, but it occurs to me that our forebearers, whether from these isolated islands or elsewhere, must have looked to the plentiful, the easily gathered, useful plants that surrounded them in abundance. And is it not these plants, the common ones, that form the environment in which rare plants can survive and thrive? (Of course, some of the now rare plants were once abundant in times past).
One of my best-ever native Hawaiian plants is definitely 'uki'uki. It is absolutely drought resistant, staying fresh and green in even the dryest of times. It grows naturally in abundance, sometimes surrounding koa trees like a small pasture, fastening on to 'ohi'a logs, tolerant of a wide ranges of environments . Most weedy species don't seem to come up through it. Its sturdy, drought-hardy characteristics make it a great companion next to tender palapalai and other ferns, protecting them from wind and moisture loss. And for securing a slope from erosion, 'uku'uki is a champ. And it's not at all hard to germinate and grow in a nursery setting.
So there it is - a late night ode to 'uku'uki, no ho'i!