All In The 'Ohana

Naupaka Kahakai

Naupaka Kahakai

If you live in hawaii you know this plant, but do you know its cousin?

If you live in Hawaii you’d find it hard to avoid the plant pictured above. It’s at just about any beach you go to, common in manicured landscaping, and is as easy to find in most other islands throughout the tropical Pacific. You’ll even find it in the Atlantic around the Caribbean region; though it’s an invasive there. (Please leave your favored plants in their home territory!)

Now take a look at the plant pictured below and try to recall where you’ve seen it.

Naupaka Papa

Naupaka Papa

Can’t place it? That’s Okay. Most people can’t. There’s a reason for that, of course. This is not the naupaka you stuff your slippers into when you go for a walk on the beach. This is Scaevola coriacea, commonly referred to as either dwarf or creeping naupaka. It’s endemic to Hawaii, meaning its home range is here in Hawaii and nowhere else. Dwarf Naupaka was found on all the major islands here in Hawaii. The key word being “was”.  Through loss of habitat the natural population of this Hawaii native has been whittled down to just a bit over 100 scraggly individuals in a single colony on Maui plus a couple of those sacred sanctuaries known as off shore islets.

Some years ago, at HILT’s Waihee Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge on Maui, we attempted to create a duplicate population of those remaining individuals. We planted 194 little starts up on the Waihee Refuge’s sand dunes which are a similar habitat to the remaining natural population. The sand dunes there are impressive, some peaking more than 200 feet above the surrounding wetlands. There is no irrigation there so we hand watered those 194 plantings for several months. We ported backpacks and hand jugs full of water taken from the adjacent Waihee Stream. It was not easy work carrying that water up, up, up the hill of the tall dunes; but the endeavor to perpetuate the natural population was worthwhile.

Several years had passed since that planting and a survey of the population revealed a story of struggle. Only a half dozen of those plantings had survived, and those that had were only slightly larger than when they had been planted. Those dunes are a tough place to eek out an existence.

A little depressing? Yes. But read on; I promise it gets better.

A couple years after that first round of planting we received some more starts. Our restoration efforts at the Waihee Refuge focused on restoring the wetland bird habitat and adjacent surrounding areas of the historic Kapoho village. We removed dozens of acres of invasive vegetation and returned it to a majority of native vegetation species. It’s a beauty to behold.

It was there in the village that we tried that second round of plantings. Can you guess what happened? - I bet you can. - In that place of restoration the dwarf naupaka thrived.

Our mistake in that first round of planting was that we had made the assumption that we should try them in an area that mimicked that last remaining population. We were wrong. Our second round of planting in the village, now thriving with a health beyond where they came from, proved to us that the last remaining natural population does not occupy its choicest habitat but only the harsher vestiges of what was once its home. It was displaced, crowded out, left to eek by at the fringes by our human endeavors and follies.

So there they are, in Kapoho. So there they are, indirect benefactors of a bird habitat restoration effort. So there they are, setting deep roots once more. So there they are, happy.

By James Crowe