When W. S. Merwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. Poet Laureate and resident of Maui, came upon a parcel of land in the small valley of Pe‘ahi Stream in Ha‘ikū, Maui in the late 1970’s, he found an agricultural wasteland with the soil decimated and eroded by a failed pineapple plantation. Merwin set about a nearly 40-year journey to give back to the land, cultivating and creating a lush botanical garden, which today has become a dense forest of palm trees. Hand planting seedling-by-seedling, tree-by-tree, day-by-day along with his wife, Paula, W. S. Merwin restored the natural environment, transforming a once-barren space into one of the largest and most extensive private collections of palm trees in the entire world.
The Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, along with the non-profit organizations The Merwin Conservancy and Copper Canyon Press, announced on October 14, 2014 the permanent protection of the Merwin Palm Collection near Ha‘ikū, Maui with a Hawaiian Islands Land Trust Conservation Easement. This announcement is the culmination of several years of collaborative work by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, The Merwin Conservancy, Copper Canyon Press and Mr. and Mrs. W.S. Merwin, to save and preserve forever what has become one of the great private palm collections known to exist anywhere on Earth.
“From the start, thirty-some years ago, Paula and I have hoped to be able to save this bit of the wrecked land and valley of Pe‘ahi Stream. To see a fully organized and legally expressed Conservation Easement take form is a reassurance and a great joy to the both of us,” said W.S. Merwin upon signing the permanent conservation documents.
Set on nineteen acres on Maui’s north shore, the Merwin Palm Collection boasts nearly 3,000 individual palm trees, representing over 400 taxonomic species, more than 125 unique genera and 800 different horticultural varieties. According to experts at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, the collection is “a living treasure house of palm DNA.” This significant botanical and horticultural assemblage is now preserved forever through a perpetual Conservation Easement held by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. The Land Trust has permanently protected over 17,000 acres of land throughout the State of Hawai‘i.
Ted Clement, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust’s Executive Director, stated, “We are deeply honored to have worked with W.S. Merwin and his wife Paula so they could achieve a life dream: the perpetual protection of their beloved palm forest. W.S. Merwin’s writings have inspired me over the years in my conservation career, so it was especially meaningful helping the Merwins save their land. With the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust’s permanent Conservation Easement in place, we look forward to working with the terrific team of The Merwin Conservancy and the Merwin Family on the long-term stewardship of this land. We thank the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust’s supporters for helping make valuable land conservation projects like this possible.”
“The Merwin Conservancy is proud to stand today with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, Copper Canyon Press and the Merwin Family to announce the permanent protection of the Merwin Palm Collection, saving the palms and the land from any future development, forever,” said Conservancy Executive Director, Jason Denhart. “The Land Trust and their team of conservation experts are great partners, and we look forward to working with them to steward and oversee this amazing palm forest, which is truly Maui’s version of Walden Pond.”
The Merwin Conservancy is the Maui-based non-profit organization charged with the future management, maintenance and expansion of the Merwin Palm Collection in partnership with Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. The Conservancy also works in partnership with Copper Canyon Press, the non-profit publisher of W.S. Merwin’s poetry, to advance the poet’s literary legacy and his goal to create a Merwin Fellowship program to support the next generation of poets, writers and artists.
Established in 2010, the Conservancy recently completed a years-long project with the National Tropical Botanical Gardens and world-renowned palm expert, Sir Dr. John Dransfield of the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, to identify, tag, catalog and map each and every palm tree within the Merwin Collection. A scientific database has now been created featuring detailed taxonomic information about each individual palm specimen, as well as its exact location within the forest using Global Positioning Systems and Google Earth technology. This database and the palm collection will eventually be made available to the academic and botanical community for the future scientific study of the palm species.
Appointed United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in 2010, William Stanley Merwin has a career that has spanned seven decades. A poet, translator, gardener and environmental activist, Merwin has become one of the most widely read and honored poets in America. For more biographical information, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/w-s-merwin and http://www.merwinconservancy.org/about-w-s-merwin
Photo Credit: The Merwin Conservancy "Lush Palms"