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Upgrades to state-run nurseries growing plants facing extinction

LIHU‘E — Plant nurseries dedicated to the propagation of native species are set to receive upgrades, using $150,000 acquired from the state.

The Hawai‘i State Senate announced the disbursement of the capital improvement project (CIP) monies, which go to nurseries owned and operated by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) in Lihu‘e and Koke‘e, earlier this month.

Approximately $120,000 of the $150,000 will pay for a new outdoor roof at the Lihu‘e low-elevation facility, local DOFAW Branch Manager Sheri Mann told The Garden Island.

“We had a very dangerous roof that was over the nursery working area, rotting and rusting and very, very unstable,” she said. “Part of this CIP was to remove that roof. Right now we don’t have any roof over it.”

The remaining cash will be spent at the Koke‘e nursery, which houses plants found at mid-elevation. The site’s water catchment system needs an overhaul.

“I don’t think that the rest of the money will be enough to cover that, but it’ll help,” Mann said.

Mann and division horticulturalist Lynlie Waiamau could be found at the Lihu‘e nursery, next to the Kaua‘i Division of Water on Pua Loke Street, on Monday. There, Waiamau tends 2,000 plants belonging to between 40 and 50 rare species, while a colleague nurtures an even greater number of more common varieties.

The plants are eventually planted throughout state-owned Natural Area Reserves on Kaua‘i, mostly in unfrequented locations.

Some plants in Waiamau’s care, like Cyanea rivularis, are more endangered than others. A member of the bellflower family, it is endemic to Kaua‘i, and less than 50 individual specimens exist in the wild.

“We have a grant for the next three years, I think, to grow 2,500 of these,” the horticulturist said. “This would be considered a PEPP (Plant Extinction Prevention Program) plant.”

The division is also growing red, salmon and peach-colored ‘ohi‘a in Lihu‘e.

Although ‘ohi‘a is considered very common, the nursery has increased its inventory due to the fungal disease Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death, which was found on Kaua‘i in 2018.

“We … have ‘ohi‘a trees put out every time they take other plants out into the forest so that we’re constantly planting ‘ohi‘a,” Waiamau explained.

The Lihu‘e nursery is also home to the only DOFAW owned and operated seed bank in the state. Set alongside the planned roof site, the tiny, air-conditioned building is home to millions of refrigerated and frozen seeds, as well as the equipment required to clean, desiccate and germinate them.

According to Mann, the division is developing a contract with a local provider for the installation of the roof, which should occur within the next two months. The Koke‘e repairs should take place within three to six months, depending on the speed of the Lihu‘e project.

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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