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Maui Nui Botanical Garden’s ‘A‘ali‘i Named Big Tree Champion

The `A`ali`i (Hopbush Dodonaea viscosa) was planted over 30 years ago by Hawaiian ethnobotanist, Rene Sylva, who began the movement to preserve many coastal native plants in Maui. Today, it is one of nearly 120 native and Polynesian-introduced species that are present at the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens located in Kahului, Maui, Hawai`i.

By Wendy Osher

An `a`ali`i tree at the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens is among six Hawaii trees that earned a title on this year’s National Register of Big Trees.

The list recognizes the biggest tree of hundreds of species.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources submitted the nominations from community recommendations.

The complete list of Hawai‘i winners includes:

  • Acacia Koa in Kona Hema Preserve, Hawai‘i
  • Two Coconut in Kapuaiwa Coconut Beach Park, Moloka‘i
  • Hau tree at Hulihe‘e Palace, Hawaii
  • ‘A‘ali‘i at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, Maui
  • Manele/Soapberry at Bird Park/Kipuka Puaulu, Volcano National Park, Hawaii

The `A`ali`i (Hopbush Dodonaea viscosa) was planted over 30 years ago by Hawaiian ethnobotanist, Rene Sylva, who began the movement to preserve many coastal native plants in Maui. Today, it is one of nearly 120 native and Polynesian-introduced species that are present at the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens located in Kahului, Maui, Hawai`i.

All of the trees except for the koa are accessible to the public.

“With forests covering approximately 749 million acres in the US, it’s a special honor to have a tree recognized as the biggest of its kind,” said Paul Conry, Administrator of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Conry said that in a year with 14 different billion-dollar weather disasters, America’s biggest trees proved that they’re survivors.  “For trees to grow bigger than their competition, it usually means that they’ve been protected and nurtured over the years. And, they’ve been lucky. Having grown into large, healthy trees, they now do their own job of protecting and nurturing the plants, trees, wildlife and even humans in their habitats,” he said.

DLNR Chair William Aila, Jr. said the trees are a part of the unique Hawaiian rainforest, an essential part of Hawaii’s biological and cultural heritage.  “Because these native trees absorb rainfall and cloud water, protecting these forests is the most cost effective and efficient way to secure Hawaii’s water supply,” said Aila.

State officials say that since more than half of Hawaii’s original forest has been lost, immediate action is needed to protect the trees and forests that are essential to Hawaii’s water supply.

Governor Abercrombie released a plan to protect these forested watersheds and steward the natural resources that Hawaii’s survival, economy, and quality of life depend on.

Priority actions of the plan include managing invasive species, increasing Hawaii’s ability to withstand impacts from climate change, and restoring capabilities of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“We hope that including Hawai‘i on the national Big Trees register will help educate and encourage conservation of our native and culturally important trees,” said Sheri Mann, DOFAW Cooperative Resource Management Forester. “It is our goal to eventually create our own State of Hawai‘i Big Trees Program,” she said.

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  • Lord Haw-Haw.

    Indeed trees protect ahupua’a and are a habitat for rare and endangered species, the Hawai’i Forest Institute website notes that Hawai’i’s forests cover over 2 million acres (a rather optimistic figure?) equating to almost half the land area of the archipelago, some 50% of which is in private ownership. As V. H. Friedlaendeer scribed in the poem “I love a tree”:

    “When I pass to my reward, whatever that may be,
    I’d like my friends to think of me, as one who loved a tree.”

    ………… Congratulations to the good people at Maui Nui Botanical gardens!


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