Puunene Reunion 2007 Documentary

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What about those rose apple trees on Hana Highway?


We noticed them on our way in to Waianapanapa for our annual family week-long camping vacation.

Rose apple trees, 'rosey apple' we call them.

"We kids loved eating them," reminisced the Beau.

Ravaged. No leaves. Brown. Dead.

You could see the trees everywhere, many along the road and more scattered up the cliff sides. A few trees were in this condition last year, but this year? So much more devastation.


Fast forward to breakfast with Dad at an upcountry eatery. Who should we see but friends Forest and Kim Starr, an environmental biologist husband-and-wife team who have made it their life's work to identify the plants of Maui. (It was fantastic having breakfast with them.)

'Ohia rust', pronounced Forest. 'It's everywhere', added Kim.

Although the disease is called ohia rust, luckily this strain hasn't touched our ohia. Only the rose apple.

Young leaves with Puccinia psidii damage
Hana Hwy, Maui
Photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr

The State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture put out a New Pest Advisory back in 2005, when the disease was first spotted on O'ahu.

According to the Maui Invasive Species Committee website:

"If a new strain of the rust arrives there is a very real chance that it will attack ‘ōhi‘a and cause the same level of damage as it did to rose apple. This could be devastating: ‘ōhi‘a makes up 80% of our native rainforest and is the keystone species in the watershed. In an effort to protect ‘ōhi‘a and our rainforest–the source of our water–the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture is proposing a ban on the import of plants that could carry a new variety of the rust." 
[Plans in the pipeline to protect ‘ōhi‘a from ‘rust’, December 1, 2011
Original article by Lissa Strohecker: Maui News, October 9, 2011]

'We thought it might be part of an eradication plan," I murmured. 

"We couldn't have done such a good job of it," answered Kim. The rust spores travel with the wind, and spread is quick.

A Baseline Analysis of the Distribution, Host-Range and Severity of the Rust Puccinia Psidii in the Hawaiian Island, 2005-2010 displays results from road-side surveys of the Waihe'e Trail, but the report doesn't mention Hana Highway.

Much of the road to Hana now looks like this photo, taken in 2008.

Syzygium jambos (rose apple) 
Habit with Puccinia psidii at Huelo Hana Hwy, Maui. 
March 26, 2008. 
Image by Forest & Kim Starr

The big question is: what can you and I as regular citizens do to help?

True, the rose apple is considered an invasive species, but a strain of the puccinia psidii could possibly arrive and target our beloved ‘ōhi‘a trees.

First, Don't bring in myrtle plants or cut flowers, especially from other countries, without first checking with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

"Carver Wilson of Maui Floral knows firsthand about the hitchhiking pests carried in cut flowers and foliage. He and other florists throughout the state have voluntarily cut back on their use of eucalyptus and wax myrtle as foliage in arrangements. These plants in the myrtle family are imported from out-of-state and are the likely culprit for bringing in the invasive ‘ōh‘ia rust that spread quickly, killing rose apple trees throughout the state."

Secondly, the Maui Invasive Species Committee recommends buying or using only locally grown flowers and foliage.

Thirdly, education is key. Here are some articles for further study:

       Rust ruins rose apple; guardians fear for ohia Maui News, December 14, 2008

       Puccinia psidii - A plethora of articles at HEAR.org (why is HEAR closing?)

       Puccinia Rust - references to scientific articles, from the University of Hawai'i Hawaii          Forestry Extension

I was happy to see that the Starrs documented the puccinia psidii damage again, in 2012. This photo gives a clear idea of the kind of damage we saw a couple of weeks ago.

Syzygium jambos (rose apple) 
Habit Puccinia psidii damage at Hana Hwy, Maui. 
February 16, 2012. 
Image by Forest & Kim Starr 

Those dead rose apple trees definitely caught my attention!

Does anyone know the status of the proposed ban on importing plants that could have a related strain affecting the ‘ōhi‘a?

It's important that we find out!

@Celebrate Maui
On G+

P. S. A big MAHALO to Forest and Kim for their dedication to documenting the natural resources of Hawaii.

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