Restoration Work Finds Hala a Worthy Ally

Pala ka hala, ‘ula ka ai

When the hala ripens, the neck is brightened by them

People are very fond of hala lei. From the name chant of Kuali‘i

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‘Ōlelo No‘eau Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings

By Mary Kawena Pukui

2017 planting hala at the waihee refuge (2).jpg

We started our habitat restoration work at the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge in 2005. For the majority of the area we're transforming nearly 100% non-native and invasive species to native vegetation; primarily to support the Hawaii-endemic wetland birds as well as a variety of migratory birds that also use the area. We've had wonderful success in the wetlands and along the coastline where the environment is best suited for plants that are adapted to the unique conditions of flooding and the ehu kai which blankets everything nearshore with salt.

We've also conducted restoration activities in areas surrounding the wetlands and further back along the shoreline. These areas have proved more difficult to keep in native vegetation. Our biggest challenge in these dryer areas have been the vines and the Asystasia gangetica. The asystasia is a violet or white flowered herbaceous plant which will climb and smother our native plantings. The asystasia has proven very difficult to eradicate due to its habit of intertwining with other vegetation along with its penchant when being hand weeded to break easily leaving the rooting nodes in place to grow again. For years we've been trying to keep this plant from suffocating our plantings such as naupaka and a'ali'i.

In some areas where the asystasia has gained domination we noticed one plant which seemed to grow beyond the tangle of stems: Pandanus tectorius, more commonly known as hala. The features of hala's growth lend itself well to escaping the tenacious asystasia. The hala's leaves, growing directly from its trunk, fall away to the ground taking anything that might be clinging on. Once the hala reaches up beyond the mesh of asystasia it is free to shade out its former competitor and drop its own thick and sturdy leaves to cover the herb.

Due to this observation we have this past year begun a large push to plant out about 1,400 hala into areas where the asystasia dominates. By pushing out these masses of asystasia we should be reducing the amount of seed generated and slow the spread where the asystsia does not fair quite so well against its competition and we are capable, therefore, of controlling it.

Through this process we are learning to adapt our strategies as our restoration projects mature and face new challenges. Our restoration activities, like the hala, are shedding the early stages enabling us to reach up to a bright future leaving behind what weighed it down.

 

By James Crowe