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!

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Aloha no Marsha,

I agree with your sentiments 100%. I too work up in Kokee weekly and I have observed the very thing you speak about. Working for DOFAW, I am involved in a Koa restoration project. After removing as much of the eucalyptus, quava, and pine that we could and planting Koa, the 'uki'uki was the first of the native species to come up on its own. Followed shortly by a'ali'i and 'uki (Gahnia beechyi). Recently I observed 'ilima springing up amongst the weeds. You are right, 'uki'uki is very hardy, grows abundantly in dry to mesic to wet forest habitats and it is attractive to the eye.

In addition to the natives that are re-generating on their own, we have planted native grasses (Kawelu and Pili) to help with erosion. All this on the dry western facing ridge of Polihale. It is the 'uki'uki and 'uki that are the warriors though, surviving the harshest of condition, maintaining their vibrant green color all the while.

While it is my job to propagate T & E species, I grow lots of common natives to re-create a more natural habitat for the endangered ones. All are vital to a healthy native forest.

E malama aina,
Aloha e Miliaulani,

Maika'i! Someone who knows grasses! I would so love to see your work/nursery. I don't know kawelu. I have so many grass questions!

Here's a non-native grasses Koke'e question for you: I have become deeply concerned over the last 3 years or so with two new roadside grasses that look like they have lethal (for the forest!) seeds, heavy seeds that all those non-native flocking birds love - I've collected them but not gotten them positively identified. Hui o Laka's Kokua Kokee program participants have been hand weeding along roadsides and trails, even bagging all seed heads before removal, but with roadsides in particular we need a concerted effort if these new arrivals are not to take off, heaven help us. Maybe you know these new grasses? Or where I could find out more...

Thank you SO much for responding. There is so much to learn!

Me ke aloha,


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