KILAUEA — Madeline Guyett was beaming after receiving a free ‘ohi‘a tree on Saturday. She was anxious to return home and add it to her extensive garden.
“They’re part of this land, and I appreciate what it brings to our people, to the island,” she said.
Guyett was one of a big crowd that arrived at Anaina Hou Community Park to receive one of 100 free ‘ohi‘a trees being given away by the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay.
Demand for the ‘ohi‘a was high. People began lining up at 9 a.m. for the giveaway that started at 10. One person drove from Waimea, leaving before sunrise. By 11, even though they were limited to one per family, almost all of them were gone.
Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay President Monica Oszust said the club wanted to help after hearing a presentation on rapid ‘ohi‘a death and learning the tree that embodies Hawaii was in trouble.
The club spent about $1,000 on the saplings, valued at about $10 each.
“We realized the community needed the trees,” Oszust said. “We wanted to give back what they were losing.”
Kim Rogers, ROD outreach specialist with the Kauai Invasive Species Committee, spoke to the club in March about ROD, which has been infecting and killing the trees “at an alarming rate,” including on Kauai.
She was pleased the club asked how it could get involved.
“One of the things we can do to help ‘ohi‘a survive this big threat called rapid ‘ohi‘a death is to out-plant more ‘ohi‘a around the island to create a strong genetic diversity,” Rogers said.
The hope is that the free trees will result in more of them growing at lower elevations on the island.
“At one time on this island, ‘ohi‘a grew mauka to makai,” Rogers said.
Many believe ‘ohi‘a trees only grow at Koke‘e.
“Not so,” Rogers said. “It used to grow everywhere.”
‘Ohi‘a trees are unique to Hawaii. ‘Ohi‘a forests cover nearly a million acres statewide.
“As the backbone of Hawaii’s native forests, ‘ohi‘a are a critical source of fresh water, shelter, food and inspiration,” states a brochure on ROD that Rogers was giving out.
But the disease is killing them off, so planting more of them will help counter it.
“This is an idea to introduce ‘ohi‘a to places where it used to grow, and to the community,” Rogers said.
The promotion brought Kahala Miyajima and her daughter Michele Ezell to Anaina Hou. They arrived as the giveaway was winding down and only a few trees remained, so each got one.
“You’re offering me two? I won’t tell anybody,” Miyajima said, smiling.
Mom and daughter drove from Lihue to claim their ‘ohi‘a trees after one in their yard was cut and didn’t recover.
The retired teacher looked over the remaining young trees on the table.
“I’d like one that’s vigorous,” Miyajima said.
Rogers lined them up for her review.
“I’ll put some out here and you can take your pick,” she said, adding that they are “super slow-growing. “You know, choosing a tree is a very personal thing, I have found. People have long relationships with ‘ohi‘a trees.”
There is a reason for that.
“Have you ever seen an ‘ohi‘a tree in bloom? Miyajima asked. “They’re beautiful.”
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.