At the Kilauea summit area of the national park, volunteers Paul and Jane Field led a group out into the forest to tackle a bad patch of Himalayan ginger – also called kāhili ginger.
“Its a beautiful pant,” admitted Paul Field to the group before the work began. “It grows thick, it shades out the native understory, and if you let it go pretty soon you have an ocean of ginger. The other thing it does is it keeps the tiny little ohia seeds from getting down to the ground. When the old ohia trees die there’ll be no kieki to take their place.”
The ginger plant is the most invasive in the park, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature includes it on the “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species” list.
Armed with gloves and sharp loppers, the group delved into the undergrowth and spent the morning cutting away.
“We really feel lucky,” said Jane Field. “We started this almost a year ago. The park has said, ‘do it, take people down there’ because there is no resource, there’s not nearly as much man power or money as we would like.”
Ginger wasn’t the only invasive plant in their sights. The non-native faya tree is another unwelcome visitor to the park.
“They always grow right up into the ohia trees,” Paul pointed out. “We have a couple little folding saws that you can use on the main trunk.”
The faya took a little more work. The uneven, puka-filled terrain does not make it any easier.
As the summit volunteers toiled, another group of volunteers removed fountain grass down the highway in Ka’u at Hawaiian Ocean View Estates.
It seems like a never ending battle against the fat spreading invasives. But volunteers like Jane do not let the overwhelming work get the best of them.
“We’ve had people who have hiked these trails for years and they can see whats happening to the forest,” Jane said. “I remember when I first here, if you went down Halemaumau trial, you could look across the rock slides to the cliff face, and now you look through the ginger and other invasives and dont see the cliff face.”
“Its only demoralizing if you dont do anything,” she said. “Then the plant has defeated us.”