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  • Nancy Redfeather

Plant Pono: Catching up on Invasive Species in Hawai'i

Updated: Apr 30, 2023



Invasive species, plants and insects that have found their way into Hawaii’s ecosystems have been on my mind a lot lately and Hawaii Seed Growers Network customers have been reaching out with questions. I’d briefly like to share what I’ve learned, and then share some ideas how we can become more akamai about the whole topic of invasive species in Hawai'i.


The long list of invasive species in Hawai'i includes insects, birds, animals, plants, and microorganisms. The culprits are many. We are dependent on globalization and the movement of products from distant lands to Hawai'i for almost everything we use. Re-localizing anything is a good first step to lessening invasive pressure in the future. But, that is only one small step.


I have been a serious home gardener here in Kona since 1978, so my perspective of what I can grow is fairly long. But over the past few years especially, the number of invasive insects and plants seems to have grown exponentially, and these pests are interfering with our ability to feed ourselves and our families.


Here is my partial list, and I know each of you have your own unique list. I’ve lost my 20 year old avocado trees to the Lace Bug, which incidentally looks a lot like Darth Vader under my microscope. I’ve lost the ability to grow cucumbers and pumpkins due to pickle-worm pressure. I lost my experimental coffee orchard of 12 varieties due to twig borer, berry borer, and rust. My Ulu tree has “abortive stress". Wild chickens are a pain, I know you can eat them and I do, but still I have to fence everything off. The wild goats are massing by the hundreds mauka and makai without a plan for eradication. The Little Fire Ant has just been discovered a short ways from my farm, and my peaceful nights of sleep are gone due to coqui pressure. There are many more invasive species that have become problems in other areas of Hawai'i Island, and these too will find their way here to Kona...and to all the Hawaiian Islands - they are just not here yet.


I’ll stop now….. I’m sure you get the picture.

Each one of us on the different islands has a story to tell and a long list of varmints that are interfering with the development of our local community food systems and it’s time for the small and big picture to be addressed head on and funded.


I reached out to Franny Brewer the new Manager at Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC) and she shared a few important resources I’d like you all to know about. First, get to know the folks at your Island’s Invasive Species Committee, as they are your first line of defense and information Center. Their websites will lead you to other resources you need to know.


Hawaii Island: Big Island Invasive Species Committee – www.biisc.org

Maui County: Maui Invasive Species Committee – www.mauiinvasive.org

Molokai: Molokai Invasive Species Committee – www.molokaiisc.org

Oahu: Oahu Invasive Species Committee – www.oahuisc.org

Kauai: Kauai Invasive Species Committee – www.kauaiisc.org



Additional Important Resources:


Hawaii Ant Lab: Little Fire Ant – www.littlefireants.com

Plant Pono Hawaii: Hawaii’s directory of low and high risk plants. www.plantpono.org


The BIG Picture of Invasive Species in Hawaii


Hawaii Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS): These are the folks from federal, state, and NGOs whose goal is to protect Hawaii from invasive species. You can check out the partners, their annual reports, and strategies at: www.cgaps.org


The CGAPS mission is to coordinate and catalyze action among government and non-government partners to prevent and manage invasive species in Hawaii, as well as communicate key issues to the public. The collaboratively produced HISC & CGAPS 2025 Strategy reflects the most urgent priorities of both CGAPS and the Hawai'i Invasive Species Council, from the 150 priorities in the 2017-2027 Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan. The Interagency Biosecurity Plan is the state's guiding document for biosecurity improvements over the coming decade. You can see read about the strategy and see the action items here: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/hisc/plans/hibp/


Become familiar with your local resources and the long range plan for Hawaii, and maybe there will be an opportunity for you to share this information with other gardening friends and widen the conversation and support for the Hawaii Biosecurity Plan. Full funding of that plan, as well as the other recommendations included in CGAPS reports will point you to a way of thinking about this important challenge that will help your community.


As Franny Brewer of BIISC says, “Prevention is

the best way to combat invasive species.”


And just as invasive pests are a huge problem, invasive plant species are equally troublesome and problematic. There are hundreds of potentially invasive plant species brought into Hawai'i, both accidentally and intentionally. As home gardeners, we play an important role in protecting Hawaii's Native forests and important pastureland from plant species that can spread very quickly, consuming resources and claiming surrounding growing areas. When deciding what to plant in your garden please use these resources to make thoughtful, well informed decisions and choose to plant species that will not so readily reproduce and spread seeds so as to impact the surrounding ecosystem. Learn more about what plant varieties are invasive to Hawaii's delicate ecosystem via Plant Pono's list of high risk plants and also be sure to check out the Pono Plant list which describes plants you can choose to support healthy and thriving ecosystems island-wide.


It is expensive and time consuming removing unwanted plants, pests, and disease issues. Use these best practices to practice prevention and avoid invasive plants and pests in your home garden.


BIISC has created some fun to watch videos that describe best practices for protecting against uninvited guests in your home garden and surrounding ecosystem. Check out their recent videos offering useful and informative information and learn how to best avoid bringing invasive pests into your garden area.



The second video is made at the Kohala Center's Research and Demonstration Farm with Homesteadin' Hawaii's Sean Jennings and Honoka'a kalo grower, Ka'iana Runnels. The video desribes what to look for when sharing plant cuttings and seeds and how to treat your plants to avoid bringing diseases into your home garden.



Hawaii’s gardeners are on the front line of identifying and learning more about invasive species of all kinds in our communities. Our collective knowledge is essential to continuing to re-localize our community food systems. We do this not only for our families but for all future generations who call Hawai'i home.


Aloha and mahalo for all you do,


Hawaii Seed Growers Network


Photo at top of page:

1) Coqui frog ; photo credit: DLNR 2) Miconia calvescens; Photo by Forest & Kim Starr 3) Avocado lace bug

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