Volunteers turned out Monday to the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo for one of four volunteer workdays scheduled for the Invasive Species Awareness Week.
“Our volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds,” said Lea Taddonio, volunteer coordinator for NTBG. “All have a really deep commitment to the Garden’s mission.”
That mission is “to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems and cultural knowledge of tropical regions.”
Invasive species threaten the survival of the native plants in the garden.
“They are starting to overtake,” said Klemens Schutz, lead gardener for the waterfall garden where the volunteer work took place.
Schutz is originally from Germany and has a master’s degree in Horticulture.
He made his way here via Tennessee and Florida, working for various companies dealing with plants.
“The gardens are in good shape, but there is a lot more work to do,” Schutz said.
Tim Flynn, curator for the NTBG herbarium, started the work session with a brief orientation that included introductions to the common and exotic plants on the short walk to the waterfall area in the McBryde Garden.
Upon reaching the work site, Flynn pointed out the targeted invasive species for the day — solanum toruum, native to the Antilles and odontonema cuspidatum, native to Central America.
Volunteers tackled the jobs for which they felt best suited, wielding shovels or trowels or bare hands.
Mel Gabel, a regular volunteer at the NTBG, found the solanum easy to pull out of the damp soil. His gloves protected his hands from the solanum thorns.
Gabel is also the vice president of Na Lima Kokua (helping hands), the volunteer board that supports the NTBG.
Gabel is no stranger to volunteer work. He was a volunteer naturalist for Anza- Borrego Desert State Park in southern California.
“(NTBG) has as many volunteers as (Anza-Borrego),” Gabel said. “We appreciate their volunteering.”
Gabel said the volunteers include “snow birds,” those who spend the winter months on Kaua‘i.
Natalie Pettit-Ross is a gardener from Canada who thought it would be fun getting an early start on gardening.
“We start gardening in May or June in Canada,” Pettit-Ross said.
She was joined by her friend, Cindy Woodman, who said she couldn’t miss the opportunity.
Pettit-Ross and Woodman found out about the work day from Maureen Reyes, a regular volunteer during the winter months.
Taddonio said the work session was the start of a weekly effort to rid the waterfall area of invasive species.
“Each island has its own invasive species committee,” said Flynn. They look at certain plant families that have proven to be bad and concentrate on those.
Flynn takes care of the herbarium that contains 56,000 dry plant specimens.
“Our collection serves as a way to document all the plants on the island and document how vegetation changes over time,” Flynn said.
The collection includes plants from other island groups.
Keren Gundersen, Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee project coordinator, said in a telephone interview, that they post pest alerts on their Web site.
KISC holds annual strategy meetings to determine targets. They select invasive species that have the best chance of being eradicated.
The Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council is co-sponsoring the awareness week activities with NTBG. Jackie Kozak, outreach specialist, focuses on educating the people of Kaua‘i about invasive species.
“They pose a great threat,” Kozak said in a telephone interview. “We host many species that are found nowhere else in the world. Invasive species threaten them with extinction.” Kozak referred to KISC as a rapid response crew and said that the “miconia” is an example of how eradication efforts can work.
Miconia destroyed the Tahiti rainforests. Now, 70 percent of the rainforests is this one plant.
When miconia started showing up on Kaua‘i, eradication efforts began.
In the past two years, no mature flowering miconia plant has been sighted.
“Often spreading freely and quickly, invasive species know no boundaries, and so it will really take all of us pulling together to protect that which we love most about Kaua‘i,” Kozak said.
A public symposium entitled “A Different Look at Invasive Species: How they affect our farms, culture, and watersheds” will be presented today at 7 p.m. at the Hanalei School cafeteria.
On Saturday, the Hanalei Watershed Hui will host a community trail maintenance day at ‘Okolehao Trail in Hanalei. Volunteers are also welcome at Limahuli Garden in Ha‘ena to remove invasive species.
On Sunday, NTBG and Malama Kaua‘i Research Farm will host a weeding day at Hanalei School to prepare a site for a native plant garden.
To volunteer for NTBG activities, contact Lea Taddonio at volunteer@NTBG.org or 332-7324 extension 228.
For more information about Kaua‘i Invasive Species Awareness Week or to schedule a presentation or volunteer event, contact Jackie Kozak at firstname.lastname@example.org or 346-5390.
• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com