Just how bad is Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD)?

ROD is a very serious situation. While the crisis has not spread statewide (currently limited to Hawai‘i Island), the numbers are concerning, with scary implications:

>100,000 – number of ʻōhiʻa trees killed by ROD so far
34,000 – number of acres affected on Hawai‘i Island
865,000 – acres of ʻōhiʻa trees statewide
50 – percentage of native trees on Hawai‘i Island that are ʻōhiʻa
A few weeks – amount of time before tree dies after it exhibit symptoms
Uncountable – number of humans, animals, and other plants that directly rely on ʻōhiʻa trees for healthy ecosystems, clean water, clean air, native habitat, cultural value, or enjoyment!

How can I learn more about Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death and how it spreads?

ROD is caused by the vascular wilt fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata. This is a new strain of the fungus, and its origin of introduction to Hawai‘i is unknown. ROD was first observed in Puna and Hilo Districts and has spread to other locations on Hawai‘i Island, but it has not been reported on any other islands. Unfortunately, we don’t fully understand how it spreads – there are a lot of possibilities that may include soil, plant parts, insects, water, or a combination – which is why ROD is such a big concern. Visit rapidohiadeath.org for background information and all the latest updates, and follow the RapidOhiaDeath Community on Facebook to learn more.

If you live on O‘ahu, J. B. Friday, of University of Hawai‘i and Komohana Research & Extension Center, will be giving a presentation on Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death on March 1, 7:00pm, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, St John Room 11. Sponsored jointly by the Hawaiian Botanical Society and the Hawai‘i Audubon Society.

Recent articles include:
Hawaii Ohia Tree Die-Off Bigger Than Thought (Big Island Video News, 1/29/16)
Aerial surveys show rapid ohia death spreading quickly (Hawaii News Now, 1/29/16)
Legislators target rapid ohia death (Hawaii Tribune Herald, 12/24/16)
State Issues New Call For Public’s Help To Stop Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (Civil Beat, 12/23/15)
Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death Prompts Inter-Agency Response (Maui Now, 12/23/15)
Understanding and stopping rapid ‘Ōhi‘a death (University of Hawai‘i News, 12/11/15)

How can I learn more about ʻōhiʻa forests?

Learn more about the importance of forests and watersheds here:
Department of Land and Natural Resources – The Rain Follows the Forest
Hawai‘i Association of Watershed Partnerships – Why Watersheds Matter
The Nature Conservancy – Last Stand: The Vanishing Hawaiian Forest

How can I learn more about the Seed Conservation Lab at Lyon Arboretum?

In a nutshell, we were the first seed bank in Hawai‘i established for long-term storage and research on seeds of Hawaiian native plants, over 20 years ago. Our three primary goals include 1) long-term storage to preserve genetic diversity, 2) propagation for restoration projects, and 3) research on seed germination and storage. Working with our partners, we currently bank over 12 million seeds from more than 550 native species (~40% of the Hawaiian flora). We’re part of the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program at Lyon Arboretum.

Visit our page on the Lyon Arboretum website to watch a short video and learn more.

Why should the Seed Conservation Lab store ʻōhiʻa seeds during this crisis?

Seed storage is a cost-efficient method to preserve genetic diversity of plant species, which will only become more critical as natural plant populations face increasing threats from human development, habitat degradation, climate change, and other threats like ROD. Seeds of ʻōhiʻa are relatively easy to collect and process, and since they are tiny, literally millions of seeds can be banked efficiently in a small space. Given these conveniences, proactive efforts are well justified. Instead of waiting until a full-blown crisis strikes and being forced to take reactive measures, we can begin now to systematically safeguard the valuable genetic diversity of ʻōhiʻa.

Has the Seed Conservation Lab stored seeds during a crisis before?

Yes! In 2005-2008, when invasive gall wasps threatened our native wiliwili trees (Erythrina sandwicensis) with extinction, the Seed Lab stored nearly 100,000 seeds from Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lanaʻi, Kaho‘olawe, Maui, and Hawaiʻi islands. Since the gall wasp was controlled, many of our stored seeds have been used for restoration projects, and wiliwili are making a strong comeback.

How exactly are donated funds being used?

‘Ōhi‘a Seed Collection
– Hawai‘i Island trips by Seed Conservation Lab staff to target highest risk ʻōhiʻa varieties and areas
– Day trips by Seed Conservation Lab staff to target ʻōhiʻa species endemic only to O‘ahu
– Work with existing partner agencies, with botanists experienced in collecting seeds from threatened species, who will send us ʻōhiʻa seeds from other islands

This includes travel costs, and any specialized equipment, supplies, and/or training needed for working with ʻōhiʻa trees in ROD affected areas (working with local experts on our collection strategy, and to ensure we do not spread ROD).

‘Ōhi‘a Seed Storage
– Staff time and supplies to process, dry, viability test, and place into storage ʻōhiʻa seeds collected over the course of 1 year, including work done at the Hawai‘i Island Native Seed Bank
– Minimal cost of maintaining stored ʻōhiʻa seeds for at least 10 years (the fee we would charge someone to deposit a seed collection)

If further funds are raised, they may help us to make additional collection trips (both to Hawai‘i Island and other neighbor islands) to target other rare ʻōhiʻa varieties or ROD resistant populations, shipping supplies and postage to back up appropriate ʻōhiʻa seed collections with partner seed banks, and/or extend our project into a second year of collection and storage.

Any additional funds will be used to help the Seed Conservation Lab continue its operations in perpetuity (maintaining staffing, facilities, and equipment), allowing us to store these ʻōhiʻa seeds decades into the future, and we guarantee that all funds go directly to conservation of native Hawaiian plants, including ʻōhiʻa.

I’m not from Hawai‘i – I’m confused by the islands’ names! Can you clarify?

No worries – mahalo for wanting to learn more about Hawai‘i. While the whole state is called Hawai‘i, it also includes an island named Hawai‘i (also known as The Big Island). The other major islands (8 total) are called: Maui, Molokaʻi, Lanaʻi, Kaho‘olawe, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Ni‘ihau. Lyon Arboretum is located in Honolulu, which is on our most populated island, Oʻahu. Fun fact: Hawai‘i Island is larger than all of the other islands combined, and it’s still growing through continuous volcanic activity.

How is the Seed Conservation Lab funded – why do you need our help?

The Seed Conservation Lab is part of the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program (which also includes the Micropropagation Lab and Rare Plant Nursery). The program is a unit of Lyon Arboretum, and the arboretum is a unit of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. As such, UH provides the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program with infrastructure, utilities, communications support, and some administrative support via Lyon Arboretum. However, UH does not provide financial support for staff, equipment, or supplies. Our funding currently comes from a mix of federal, state, and private sources. The Hawaiian Rare Plant Program is continually pursuing funds to continue doing our important work, mostly through government agencies and competitive extramural grants.

Why does this mean so much to the Seed Conservation Lab?

In Lyon Arboretum’s Hawaiian Rare Plant Program, our primary mission is to prevent extinction of Hawai‘i’s hundreds of rare, endangered, and vulnerable plant species. All of us are passionate about this mission, malama ‘āina, and caring for our native forests and ecosystems. ‘Ōhi‘a trees not only provide the foundation for most of the healthy forests across Hawai‘i, they are also culturally important as kinolau of Kū, Laka, Pele, and others; their wood is traditionally used for sacred purposes; and flowers, liko, and leaves are used to make beautiful lei, including for traditional hula. They also provide nectar for our native forest birds such as ‘i‘iwi, ‘apapane, and other honeycreepers, and habitat for insects and snails. ‘Ōhi‘a is beloved in Hawai‘i, and we want to do our part to save them.

How will ʻōhiʻa seeds from this project be used?

Under these circumstances – and even in general, with other unpredictable events such as wildfires and drought – it is important to have large numbers of ʻōhiʻa seeds banked locally in Hawai‘i. A seed bank is useless if seeds are deposited but never withdrawn, and we strive to have an “exit strategy” for our seed collections, so that they are used for restoration of our native ecosystems when the time is right. All ʻōhiʻa seeds banked at Lyon Arboretum’s Seed Conservation Lab through this project will be made immediately available to landowners, land managers, and other authorized users when requested for restoration purposes, and we will work with these stakeholders to develop seed exit strategies after the threat of ROD has passed.

How will you ensure you do not spread ROD via seed collections on Hawai‘i Island?

Excellent question. We will be following USDA sanitation protocols before and after we visit every collection site on Hawai’i Island. It is unlikely that the ROD fungus lives in ʻōhiʻa seeds, but to take every precaution, we have already been working with J.B. Friday (University of Hawai‘i and Komohana Research & Extension Center) and Lisa Keith (USDA Agricultural Research Service) to determine appropriate protocols for handling seeds. We are also working with our partner Jill Wagner of Hawai‘i Island Seed Bank (HISB). After we make collections on Hawai‘i Island, we will go to HISB to do the processing (to remove seeds from capsules and end up with clean seeds). We have purchased a dedicated seed drying cabinet and freezer unit for OhiaLove at HISB, so many seeds can be stored there. If we decide that any seeds should go to Oʻahu, seeds can be sealed into foil packets before being sent to Lyon Arboretum’s Seed Lab. This way, even though the seeds likely do not carry fungus, drying and sealing into packets on-island provides an extra layer of protection.

How long do ʻōhiʻa seeds last in storage?

A long time! We have seeds from 1997 that showed no significant decline in viability after 15 years of storage. Worldwide, species in the genus Metrosideros have been found to have orthodox seeds, which means that the seeds can be stored dry and frozen for many decades.

Does the Seed Conservation Lab already store ʻōhiʻa seeds?

Yes, we do! Our first collection of ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) seeds came into the Seed Lab in 1997. A total of 9 collections were made between 1997 and 2003 for research into the best methods to germinate and store seeds. Since then we’ve also received some collections for germplasm storage (long-term preservation of genetic variation), with a few collections from Kaua‘i, Moloka‘i, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island. We actually have over 1 million seeds of Metrosideros polymorpha in storage. However, the majority are from O‘ahu, and the collections that we have received from Hawai‘i Island are only from a small portion of the areas currently affected by ROD, so one of our main objectives of this project will be to collect and store seeds from areas and varieties that are most at risk on Hawai‘i Island.

Besides M. polymorpha, there are three other Hawaiian Metrosideros species that are endemic only to the island of O‘ahu. We have a few collections of Metrosideros tremuloides (lehua ‘āhihi) and Metrosideros macropus (also called ʻōhiʻa lehua) and 1 collection of Metrosideros rugosa (lehua papa), but the majority of the seeds are in research collections (and total < 50,000 seeds for all three species). These species are important to bank, because they may either be more vulnerable due to their narrower range, or they may carry resistance to ROD and be valuable for reforestation efforts. One of our main objectives with this project will be to make strategic collections of these O‘ahu-endemic species for long-term genetic preservation, focusing on populations and areas of O‘ahu that are not yet represented in the Seed Lab.

Since we have worked a lot with ʻōhiʻa in the past, you can feel confident that we are skilled in collecting, handling, cleaning, drying, and storing ʻōhiʻa seeds.

If the Seed Conservation Lab already stores ʻōhiʻa seeds, why collect and store more?

The great majority of ʻōhiʻa seeds stored in our Seed Lab are in research collections. This means that they were experimentally stored under different conditions to determine best practices, and through this research we know that some seeds are stored under optimal conditions and some are not. Ideally we would also like for the research collections to remain in storage so they can continue to be tested over the long term, perhaps decades into the future.

In our research, we have also found that ʻōhiʻa seeds have a low rate of viability – that is, only a small percentage of seeds contain embryos and will germinate (usually <50%, often much lower). Luckily ʻōhiʻa trees produce a lot of tiny seeds at once, so making and storing large collections is not difficult, nor is it harmful to the trees. The Hawaiian Rare Plant Program is also in the process of building a new building for the Micropropagation Lab, which should be complete in 2017. At that time the Seed Conservation Lab will expand into the current space of both labs, more than doubling our capacity for seed storage, so OhiaLove collections will not impact our existing work or goals.

As mentioned above, the majority of our ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) seeds are from O‘ahu, and the areas at highest risk are not represented, so we aim to collect and store seeds from those specific areas and varieties to preserve genetic variation from Hawai‘i Island. Collections from other neighbor islands are limited too, so we want to increase numbers of seeds (and genetic representation) from all islands. We also want to increase our representation of the O‘ahu-endemic species of Metrosideros, because they may either be more vulnerable due to their narrower range, or they may carry resistance to ROD and be valuable for reforestation efforts.

How will you get ʻōhiʻa seeds from islands besides O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island?

In much the same way that we receive other types of seeds from all the Hawaiian Islands. In order to do our work, we already have established partnerships with the Plant Extinction Prevention Program and the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources – Division of Forestry & Wildlife, which have field botanists working on all of the main islands. Our partners already send us collections of fruits and/or seeds for storage and propagation, and they have agreed to make collections of ʻōhiʻa seeds to send to us as well. If we raise enough funds, Lyon Seed Lab staff may also make trips to other islands specifically to target ʻōhiʻa varieties that are more rare or restricted.

How many ʻōhiʻa seeds do you need to collect?

To some degree it depends on the funds we raise, how many collections trips we can make, and how many collections our collaborators can send us. However, we know that ʻōhiʻa seeds have low viability – often only about 10% will germinate, so large collections should be made. We also know that ʻōhiʻa seeds are produced in huge quantities even on a single tree, so we will likely collect tens of thousands of seeds even from a single population (an ʻōhiʻa forest stand at a particular location and elevation). Ten thousand ʻōhiʻa seeds will fit in the palm of your hand!

What is your strategy for collecting ʻōhiʻa seeds?

In addition to collecting seeds from several individual trees in a population, we will collect from several different populations (especially at different elevations) to ensure that high genetic variation is represented in our seed bank. This is important because genetic diversity in a population of trees allows that population to be more adaptable to change. We will also make strategic collections from trees that appear to be resistant to ROD (with help from ROD experts), which may be very important for restoration. Additionally, we will track our progress using GIS technology, and we will work with Laukahi, the Hawaiian Plant Conservation Network, to coordinate our efforts and ensure we are efficient and do not over-collect from sensitive areas.

Can I send you ʻōhiʻa seeds from my yard or my favorite trail?

Unfortunately, no. Although we appreciate everyone’s willingness to help, accepting seeds from the general public would pose two problems. First, we may simply become overwhelmed with seeds. Second, it is important that we make and receive collections of seeds from wild ʻōhiʻa trees and track the provenance of those seeds. Our goal is to preserve genetic variation that is present in natural ʻōhiʻa forests in a systematic way (see above). We and our partner collectors are trained to make decisions about where, when, and how to collect seeds, as well as the information that needs to be recorded with each collection, in order to preserve seeds that will be appropriate for future restoration projects.

A possible exception would be if a homeowner lives in a ROD-affected area but believes their tree may be resistant. In that case, we would discuss the possibility of testing your tree for resistance with the scientists working on ROD.

If you would like to collect ʻōhiʻa seeds from trees on your own property and store them yourself, we have prepared a guide to help you do that: Landowner’s Guide to Storing ʻŌhiʻa Seeds.

Then what can I do to help?

You can do several things! Raising awareness is key – you can share this campaign and the ROD resources listed at the top of this page on social media, and tell your family and friends.

You can avoid collecting ʻōhiʻa on Hawaiʻi Island and make sure not to transport any ʻōhiʻa plants or plant parts between islands – we know without a doubt that the quarantine has prevented the spread of ROD to other islands. Spread the word on this too!

You can be on the lookout whenever you’re around ʻōhiʻa forests, follow proper sanitation protocols to avoid potentially transferring the fungus, and if you see any possible signs of ROD you can report them here.

If you live in an urban area of Hawai‘i, you can also plant an ʻōhiʻa tree on your property through the ‘Ōhi‘a Legacy Initiative.

If you would like to collect ʻōhiʻa seeds from trees on your own property and store them yourself, we have prepared a guide to help you do that: Landowner’s Guide to Storing ʻŌhiʻa Seeds.

And even though our GoFundMe campaign has finished, you can always donate directly to the #OhiaLove Project to help us save ʻōhiʻa seeds!


Return to the #OhiaLove Main Page

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