The Hawaiian Islands exhibit some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. These ecosystems range from tropical rainforests to alpine deserts. One ecosystem that you can find on all of the Hawaiian Islands is a rainforest known as a Tropical Montane Cloud Forest (TMCF). In fact, just look up at the Koʻolau mountains on any given day and you’ll likely see low lying clouds hiding the peaks. These clouds often surround the summit on even the sunniest days and cast shadows upon the valleys. But what really is a TMCF and why are they important to us?
What are “Tropical Montane Cloud Forests”? As the name suggest it is an atmospheric environment where the vegetation level is enveloped in clouds frequently or seasonally. They are a unique ecosystem that can be found between 3,000 -4,000 ft., with some starting as low as 1,650 ft. There are two general types of cloud forests that exist depending on amount of rainfall they receive. One is a wet windward TMCF and the other is a drier leeward TMCF. The Koʻolau mountain range falls into the first type of cloud forest, which has heavy orthographic rainfall with high annual precipitation.
Why are they important to us? Environmentally cloud forests are important to island people because they act as a starting point to our ahupuaʻa and help supply our downstream ecosystems with water. TMCFs are of high interest in research because of the value they give to an island hydrologic system. In times of drought cloud forests supply dry streambeds with water and help restore the island’s water reserve. Cloud water interception has now been identified as a biological source of water in mountain areas. However, many things still remain unknown about these isolated ecosystems.
By defining and understanding TMCFs we learn how to care for these important ecological resources and ultimately become better stewards of our ʻāina. Culturally, Hawaiians understood the importance of cloud forests and held a deep appreciation for their entire ahupuaʻa. The bond between Hawaiians and nature was truly unique and they developed names to describe the natural phenomena around them. These included the clouds, fog, and mist that develop on the island’s high mountain forests. The fog or clouds on the mountains were described by the Hawaiian word ‘Ohu and translates "to be adorned as with lei” perhaps to reference the ring of clouds that often encircle the Koʻolau peaks.
The natural water cycle provided by cloud forests help to cleanse and preserve the ecosystems from mauka to makai. The water resources provided by clouds forests eventually flow naturally throughout our biodiverse watersheds which ultimately help filter impurities and rejuvenate the lower lying ecosystems. HOK champions to effectively manage and protect our water resources. Protection of water quality and natural resources here in the Koʻolaupoko region begins with our upper most ecosystems. Your financial contributions and volunteer participation in our programs allows us to continue our mission.
By: Jordan Kilbey HOK Board of Directors Vice President
Every year on June 5th, over 100 countries around the world celebrate World Environment Day! As the United Nations' flagship day for promoting global awareness of environmental concerns, World Environment Day is a powerful platform that engages governments, communities, and individuals to take critical action to combat environmental issues.
The theme for this year's World Environment Day is biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variety of life within a given ecosystem or particular environment. It encompasses the millions of species that populate Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, in all the various ecosystems of the world such as the ocean, forests, coral reefs, and even your backyard. When an ecosystem is rich in biodiversity, the ecosystem is healthy.
More biodiversity means better water quality and less pollution, thereby indicating a healthy ecosystem. Healthy ecosystems provide a host of functions for human survival such as reducing the occurrence of natural disasters, providing raw materials and medicines, and food availability to name a few. However, the repercussions of human activity such as greenhouse gas emissions and noise, air, and water pollution can disrupt ecosystems and jeopardize their health. Accordingly, we have a duty to think about how our actions impact the world's biodiversity and our ability to protect it. If we don't care for our ecosystems and ensure rich biodiversity, our planet's health and our health will deteriorate. Luckily, there are a variety of great ways that we can help!
Monitoring biodiversity can be done on a variety of scales. Here at HOK we monitor and facilitate the growth of native ecosystems rich with biodiversity on the community level by implementing a variety of projects across Ko'olaupoko that address land-based pollution and watershed health. One of these projects that can be implemented in your backyard is our rain garden! Rain gardens are a great way to reduce the amount of pollution that enters streams and the ocean by intercepting storm water. HOK has developed the Hawai'i State Rain Garden Manual, a do-it-yourself guide to locating, building, and planting a rain garden appropriate for your property. The manual is available for free download on our website and is available at public libraries on all islands. Contact HOK if you would like to purchase a hard copy!
If you're interested in increasing native species biodiversity in your home gardens, visit our Kaha Native Garden! This project replaced invasive species with native Hawaiian plants that aid in soil stabilization, biofiltration, and water conservation. Tour the garden pathways to see how plantings might appear in your own backyard, or for a more in-depth understanding of how these plants may add value to your backyard, consider volunteering with us in the future! (HOK continues to abide by social distancing and stay-at-home orders, and has cancelled all community workdays until it is safe for us all to work side-by-side again.)
As we begin to venture into the ecosystems beyond our front door, World Environment Day provides us with an opportunity to both revisit our relationship with our environment, and to cultivate environmental awareness into our lifestyles. For more information on how you can get involved with World Environment Day and to learn more about biodiversity, visit the official World Environment Day website here.
Cultivating your own plants can be challenging but extremely rewarding. Propagation offers you the chance to get your hands dirty while choosing the plants that are right for you and your area. Here at HOK we encourage you to GROW NATIVE but these propagative skills can be used on all of your favorite cultivars!
Propagation can be separated into two types, sexual and a-sexual. Sexual propagation refers to the growing of seed and a-sexual or vegetative propagation is the growing of plants from collected material. Vegetative propagation allows you to obtain a genetic clone of an individual whereas seed propagation has the potential to create plants with traits from multiple parents. This genetic mixing can be beneficial providing more adaptability through natural selection. Seed that is adapted to your area may germinate faster and be stronger. Offspring may also have slightly different characteristic than their mother plant, like varied flower color or appearance.
Seeds are the result of fertilized reproductive organs. In most plants these fertile parts present in the form of flowers! Seed that is considered “orthodox” are those that can be dried and stored. Under the right conditions some seeds can be stored for years, this type of seed will usually have a hard coat or dry fruit. “Recalcitrant” seed are collections that must be propagated immediately. These seeds have a higher oil or water content, cannot be dried and usually appear as fleshy fruit. There are many methods of vegetative propagation. Some of the most common methods are stem cuttings, air layering, budding, divisions and grafting. In this month’s newsletter we will cover the most popular method stem cuttings.
A good rule of thumb when sowing seed is to never plant an individual deeper than it is wide. Seeds need to imbibe or take on water in order for them to germinate or sprout. The first emerging sprouts are embryonic leaves called cotyledons. They have developed inside the seed and have enough stored energy to push your plant to the next level. Seeds should be sown with good drainage but in media that retains moisture. Vermiculite or coco coir can be added to retain moisture while perlite or cinders can be used to promote good drainage. Seeds should be sowed in an even layer and kept moist. Try to avoid direct sun and look for an area that has partial shade throughout the day.
Seeds can often have some kind of physical or physiological dormancy, both presenting challenges for germination. Physical dormancy can present in in many ways, a good example would be seed that has a waxy coat. This coat prevents water from imbibing and until it is removed or tarnished the seed will remain dormant. Breaking physiological dormancy requires some kind of chemical change with in the seed. Cold stratification or temperature that fluctuates from hot to cold, like cyclic seasonal events can be an example of physiological dormancy.
Stem cuttings are one of the most popular methods of vegetative propagation. A good cutting should be the height of a big shaka, about 4-6 inches long. Cuttings should include as many nodes as possible. Nodes are intersection on the plant’s stems, often slightly swollen they will appear as segments or be located at leaf attachments points. These nodes are full of undifferentiated cells, or cells that have the potential to change into roots, shoots or branches. When you find a plant that you want to propagate clip it at a 45 degrees angle, apply rooting hormone to the base and the nodes on lower 2 inches of the stem. You can remove some of the larger leaves and wilted tops at this step, but leave a couple so your plant can produce nutrients through photosynthesis. Plunge your cutting into the media making sure to space each one at least 3-4 inches apart. The 45-degree angle cut, provides a larger surface area for your hormone application and will promote more root growth. Rooting hormone can be in powder, gel or liquid form and found at your local nursery or hardware store, many additional products can be found online. Place cuttings in an area with high humidity in soils with good drainage that retain moisture. Root development is not only dependent on nutrients and water but oxygen available within the media. Avoid direct sunlight and wind as they will aid in drying your propagule.
In both cases, success starts with you! A good collection involves harvesting ripe seed and material that is free of pests, healthy and strong.
The mission of Hui o Ko`olaupoko is to protect ocean health by restoring the `aina: mauka to makai. This is done in partnership with stakeholders including interested citizens, non-governmental organizations, government, educational institutions and businesses while using and focusing on sound ecological principles, community input, and cultural heritage.