I was lucky enough to be in Kailua-Kona supporting friends at the 2013 Ironman World Championships. Picture a lush tropical paradise bursting with exotic blooms. The operant word here is “exotic.” Vegetation on the Big Island of Hawaii was relatively sparse prior to the arrival of humans, especially in the Kona or dry district on the leeward side of the island. Most of the blooming and edible plants – and even trees like these coconut palms – are exotics, imported intentionally or unintentionally.
The cultivation of basic food crops brought by Hawaii’s first human inhabitants was soon surpassed by cash crops like pineapple, sugar cane and the now-famous Kona coffee. Hawaii’s climate and soils, where there aren’t lava fields, is amenable to the many exotic species of plants that have found their way to the islands, to the endangerment and extinction of many indigenous species. The irony is that most of Hawaii’s food is imported.
Invasive species are a seemingly insurmountable problem throughout the Hawaiian Islands with around 100 plants on the state’s Introduced, Invasive, and Noxious Plants list, but Hawaii is hardly alone. The November-December issue of the Sego Lily, newsletter of the Utah Native Plant Society, reports on a letter sent from six Western US Native Plant Societies to the US Agricultural Research Service urging caution in introducing new plant species into native plant communities.
The letter cites the intentional introduction and adverse effects of well-known, wide-ranging invasive species like tamarisk (saltcedar) and potentially invasive forage kochia, and other lesser-known species with significant regional impacts. The letter concludes with these admonitions to the USDA, “First, rigorous testing for adverse effects to native plant communities before exotic plants are released for commercial use. Second, and more importantly, to develop and release native rather than exotic species for restoration purposes.”
Io Landscape Architecture hopes USDA heeds these requests. After all, it isn’t restoration if native plants are replaced with exotics.