National News

2 Conservationists warn shortage of Maile species

Posted May 11, 2018 8:36 a.m. EDT

— Graduation season is fast approaching and many are pondering which lei to give that special grad. Conservationists are warning the public about an apparent shortage of Maile. But there is something we can do to help.

"You can either give someone on Maile or give them a Maile for a lifetime," Katie Kamelamela, researcher said.

Kamelamela is on a mission to protect a leafy vine-like plant called Maile.

Researchers recently discovered about 70 percent of it has declined in Hawaii's forests. It commonly grows on Ohi'a Lehua trees. A combination of recent volcanic activity and a fast moving fatal fungus are killing trees at a rapid rate.

Some worry increasing demand for Maile during graduation season will only make the situation worse. Something Kamelamela wants everyone to keep in mind.

"It's not about the lei, the lei is a symbol but what kind of more pride and Aloha in one hour can you give our graduates... Instead of giving them a Maile lei, I'm going to give them a Maile plant and then they can cultivate their own," Kamelamela said.

"Sometimes you'll see it in a partially shaded area, sometimes you see it on exposed ridges," Rick Barboza, Hui Ku Maoli Ola said.

Barboza runs native Hawaiian plant nursery Hui Ku Maoli Ola in He'eia. The three-acre site distributes native plants. About 150 species are housed there and Maile is one of them.

"Easy to grow, Maile is very easy to grow, it's somewhat difficult to propagate. Up until recently, we've been primarily relying on seeds at the plant produces and you don't often get a lot of seed from a plant," Barboza said.

Barboza says it takes anywhere from seven to 10 years before Maile is ready to harvest. He says it's worth the wait.

"It's important for us to have Maile in stock for people that do want to take on the responsibility and the kuleana to grow Maile, for that purpose of potentially making lei in the future," Barboza said.

Kamelamela says Maile has always been a highly treasured lei, especially in the art of hula. She wants consumers to be more mindful.

"Holding our vendors responsible and it really comes down to the ethics of the harvester... So I think the biggest fear is the continuation of not being aware of where your resources come from and the impact that we have in that because we need them to celebrations," Kamelamela said.