Imagine that a friend gave you a houseplant that you put outside in your garden. It looked innocent enough. You watered and took care of it. Neat plant.
Now, fast forward about twenty years. You look out your door and this “innocent house plant” has proliferated and is growing in the wild as far as the eye can see, covering thousands of acres.
A few facts first.
Before the first Polynesian settlers arrived the rate of new species of flora and fauna Introduction to the islands was one species about every 35,000 years. These first inhabitants were born either by waves, winds or seeds carried by initial birds. It is estimated that today’s rate is two million times the prehistoric rate.
The problem that native Hawaiian plants and animals face is biological competition from the aliens. Hawaii has the highest rate of extinction on the planet.
I saw a documentary last night that highlighted this growing dilemma. One alien plant that is creating havoc is called Miconia.
The Miconia plant was introduced to Hawai’i as an ornamental plant in the 1960’s. By the 90’s Miconia was found growing in the wild on Maui and the Big Island.
Miconia is a terribly invasive plant, and one of the largest threats to the fragile ecosystem in Hawai’i. Found mainly in wet areas the plant is easily spread by birds eating the seeds. Known as The Brown Tree Snake of the Plant World and Green Cancer, Miconia chokes out all other plant life.
Originally introduced in the 1930’s to Tahiti, by the 80’s Miconia had replaced over 70% of the native forest of that island. Miconia grows in dense thickets, which can reach up to 50 feet in height. The leaves grow up to 3 feet long and are dark green on the top and a striking purple on the underside. The dense leaves prevent sunlight from reaching the forest floor, causing most other plant life to die and finally be choked out and replaced by more Miconia.
The damage done by Miconia is not limited to the destruction of native plant life. Indeed, the loss of native plant life also threatens native birds that depend on the local plants for survival.
Miconia infestation is recognized by the State of Hawai’i as a problem and there is an ongoing effort to kill the species wherever it is encountered. You can easily find signs on trails along the Hāmākua Coast that show a picture of the plant and instructions for removal.
The photo above is of the Kahili Ginger, another invasive plant that has been hard to eradicate.
Although some of these plants are beautiful, they are deadly.