Lana'i - Remnants of a Forest…
One of the smaller ecosystems on the Hawaiian Islands, at least in terms of acreage, was the middle elevation hard wood forest. Never very extensive, these forests were significantly impacted by clearance by the early Hawaiians for cultivation, and subsequently by colonists from Europe and North America for a variety of other developments.
An early assault (ca. 1675) on the forests of western Läna`i came at the hands of a kahuna named Kawelo. who maintained a fire on the height of land for several years as an offering to the gods to assure the fertility of local dogs and pigs. The amount of wood required by this effort is difficult to estimate but the results are obvious if one visits the site (Photos 1 and 2). This barren area is called Garden of the Gods, a name from Hawaiian mythology indicating the origin of the landscape. It seems more likely that it was the result of reckless human endeavor.
In the 19th century forests on Läna`i fell prey to early attempts at cattle ranching which inevitably resulted in widespread destruction of habitats. The importation of sheep, goats, and axis deer at various times during that time also contributed significantly to degradation of the natural scene. Much of the 20th century was occupied by pineapple cultivation with the last crop harvested in 1992. Läna`i now boasts two high-end resorts featuring designer golf courses. Today, agriculture on the island has been reduced to private gardens.
What little remains of the hardwood forests is being carefully nurtured by local citizens groups, including `Ike `Aina , of the Native Hawaiian Land Trust. The Kanepu`u Preserve, the largest of seven tracts set off for protection, consists of 368 acres. The smallest is 13 acres; the total area under protection amounts to 590 acres. I had the opportunity to visit the preserve in early 2009 to see several of the main species in their native habitat. The two principal species are Nestegis sandwicensis (Photo 3), the Hawaiian olive (olopua, Oleaceae); and Diospyros sandwicensis (Photo 4), the persimmon (lama, Ebenaceae, ebony family). The fruit is very tasty!
Occurring in lower frequency are specimens of the island’s own variety of `iliahi, the sandalwood, Santalum freycinetianum var. lanaiense (Photo 5).
Easily identified by its characteristic leaves with reddish-brown under-sides is `äla`a, Pouteria sandwicensis, a member of Sapotaceae (Photo 6).
An understory plant here is Psydrax (Canthium) odoratum, a member of Rubiaceae easily recognized in the field by its shiny leaves as seen in (Photo 7). The poetic nature of the Hawaiian language comes to the fore in the common name of this plant, alahe`e. The literal translation is aroma (ala) of octopus (he`e); the actual interpretation refers to the aroma of the flowers wafting through the air in a manner akin to the way in which an octopus moves through water.
A rare member of this forest is Gardenia brighamii (Photo 8), another member of Rubiaceae. This species, known as nänü in Hawaiian, occurs on other islands but rarely as more than a few individuals. The species has a flower whose sweet aroma would be familiar to readers from their own experience, and a characteristic fruit as illustrated in the photograph.
Also home on the island, and on most of the other islands, is the monotypic Reynoldsia sandwicensis, `ohe, a monotypic genus in Araliaceae (Photo 9). The individual in the photograph is surrounded by a thick growth of the invasive weed Schinus terebinthifolius, a member of Anacardiaceae known in the islands as Christmas Berry, the name arising from the shiny green leaves and bright red berries on mature trees which are popular as holiday decorations. The Schinus thicket is so dense that nothing can germinate under it thus preventing recruitment of `ohe seedlings.
Before leaving Läna`i, it may be of interest to meet two other native species, as well as a non-native tree species that was planted widely on the island. Endemic to the fog forest on the uppers slopes of Läna`i is Melicope (Pelea) munroi (alani, Rutaceae), whose name recognizes George Monroe who was responsible for getting the area set aside as a preserve. The shrub is seen in (Photo 10) with a close-up of its stem and young buds in (Photo 11 - inset, Photo 10 ).
Hedyotis fosbergii, manono in Hawaiian (Rubiaceae) (Photo 12), occurs on the upper slopes of Läna`i and on O`ahu. The specific epithet recognizes the many contributions made to Hawaiian botany by F. R. Fosberg.
Thousands of individuals of Cook Island pine, Araucaria columnaris (Photo 13), were planted on all of the high ridges on the island by George Monroe to aid in catching moisture from fog. The island lies in the rain shadow of the high mountains on Maui and consequently receives comparatively little moisture. Despite its elevation, Läna`i has no rain forest.
December 7, 2009