Kia‘i Moku: Rats run amok on isles

Rats have plagued Hawaiians for a very long time, and not just the human residents.

Rats were the first invasive species in Hawaii. The first voyagers to the Hawaiian Islands brought Polynesian rats, Rattus exulans, and they spread quickly, colonizing the islands faster and farther than the people. Ancient Hawaii was a world full of spectacular birds, insects, and plants; the only native land mammal didn’t crawl – it flew – the hoary bat.

These native species evolved without seed-eating, egg-stealing rodents, so when rats arrived, plants were defenseless and birds were naive to this new threat. Compounding the situation, the Polynesian rat was followed by other rodents: the Norwegian ship rat and house mouse – hitchhikers in the European and American ships of the late 1700s and 1800s. Rodents ate their way through Hawaii, overrunning the islands from the shore to mountain top, fueled by a diet rich in plants, birds, snails and insects.

According to Peter Dunlevy, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service biologist with 15 years of experience researching rats, the greatest impact isn’t on any one particular area. Rats hammer numerous aspects of the environment – from the seeds they devour to the nesting albatross they attack. “But everything is on such a small scale with rodents; it’s easy to overlook.”

Growing Future Farmers

Ag tourism, marketing leaders are planting, watering seeds of interest with isle students

KAHULUI – At first glance, it’s hard to recognize the plot of land in Kahului filled with weeds, grass and natural debris. On second look, a couple picnic benches come into view and the nearby area, which was once a thriving banana plantation, becomes slightly more discernible.

However – the only thing Pomai and Lani Weigert see at the Maui High School farmland – is potential, acres and acres of it.

The mother-daughter team of ag tourism and marketing leaders are launching a pilot program to revitalize agricultural studies at MHS, Pomai’s alma mater, in hopes of harvesting future farmers and agricultural enthusiasts for Maui County.

As a result of the MHS farm replanting effort that started last month and two days of agriculture field trips, their efforts are already yielding results.

“Ag and food services have never had registration like how they have now,” MHS agriculture teacher Ian Lowland said. “Instantly the word got around: Cool stuff is going on in agriculture. They’ve been an integral part of all of this.”

MHS senior Sarah Bam said she realizes that agricultural skills are important for all people, especially those living in Hawaii: “Everybody should know how to plant and grow their own food.”

New gardens director to infuse more native culture

KAHULUI The new executive director of Maui Nui Botanical Gardens wants to cultivate public interest in what she calls “a cultural gem in the middle of Kahului.”

Joylynn Jennifer-Nedine Mailemekalokelanionakupuna Nakoa Kaho’okele Paman took over as head of the 7-acre facility last week.

She succeeds Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond, who is teaching at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and Anders Lyons, who served as interim executive director.

Paman’s vision for Maui Nui Botanical Gardens may sprout partially from having studied Hawaiian language for 18 years.

“My vision here is to infuse the Hawaiian culture even more than it already is into this place. I come from a strong Hawaiian culture and language background, and so I just see the potential in sharing our Hawaiian culture with the community.

“The board wants to make sure that people know about this place. . . . It’s like a cultural gem in the middle of Kahului that we really need to share with everyone else.”

Archive planned at national park

KAHULUI – A new archive of thousands of documents that will be available to researchers, will be the next major addition to Haleakala National Park, Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said Wednesday.

In a “state of the park” talk sponsored by the Friends of Haleakala National Park, Creachbaum said construction had already started on the small “curatorial center” near the park’s entrance and headquarters. About 30 people showed up to hear the presentation at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, where Creachbaum also discussed the park’s visitor counts and funding.

Matt Brown, the park’s new chief of protecting endangered species, said the 800-square-foot archive building will bring together many objects that have gone unseen for years. Many of the items will be coming out of storage and some from collections, such as the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, he said.

In addition to being held in the archive, the pieces will occasionally be put on display in public buildings around the grounds of the 96-year-old park – as they are already from time to time. The archive center itself generally will be off-limits to the public and require park authorization for access, Brown said.

The collection has about 197,600 objects, 96 percent of which consist of archival records, such as documents and photographs, said P. Russell Shurtz, museum technician for Haleakala National Park.

Kia‘i Moku: Rauvolfia vomitoria a growing problem

In Western Africa, a medicinal plant teeters on the brink of extinction. Poison devil’s pepper, or Rauvolfia vomitoria, has been overharvested by local people using the plant to treat ailments ranging from psychoses to indigestion. Some healers claim the plant’s chemicals protect the spirit of the patient against witchcraft. However, in Hawaii, R. vomitoria is responsible for an ailment of our natural areas – invading forests with amazing speed. The shrubby tree with an awful name could be at least as invasive, if not more so, than miconia.

Native to subtropical regions of Western Africa, R. vomitoria can live at elevations from sea-level to 5,000 feet. It reaches reproductive maturity within two years and, in Hawaii, flowers and produces fruit year-round. The numerous seeds are contained in an orange fruit eaten and are spread by birds. The plant grows extremely fast: Within five years a seedling will be 12-18 inches across and 30 feet tall.

Mowing or cutting doesn’t discourage this plant; a patch of R. vomitoria on Hawaii Island was 3 to 4 feet tall two months after mowing. “Ralph,” as the plant is unaffectionately called by field crews frantically working to contain this plant, has invaded gulches, pastures and waterways across 2,000 to 3,000 acres in Kohala. This superweed has spread into the mixed ohia forest at 1,600 feet elevation but could expand much farther, becoming a serious pest in agricultural and natural areas. Perhaps most disturbing is R. vomitoria’s ability to outcompete some of the most invasive plant species of tropical forests, gaining a foothold amid eucalyptus and strawberry guava despite a lack of sunlight under the canopy.

Maui Invasive Species group seeks nominees

MAKAWAO – The Maui Invasive Species Committee seeks nominations by Nov. 15 to honor efforts in Maui County to eliminate invasive species.

MISC, the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals and Maui County co-sponsor the Malama I Ka Aina Award. It recognizes a landscaper; plant provider (retail or wholesale nursery, or garden shop); or the owner or manager of a commercial or agricultural property for efforts to keep invasive species out of Maui County.

Application forms are available at websites or; click on “what’s new.”

Completed forms should explain how a nominee’s activities or decisions have contributed to keeping the county free of invasive species.

Forward applications via e-mail to, fax to 573-6475 or mail to MISC, P.O. Box 983, Makawao 96768.

Organizers will announce the winner Dec. 4 at the 15th annual Lawn & Garden Fair at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

The winner will receive a plaque and one-year membership in the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals.

For more information, call 573-6472 or send e-mail to

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