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NEWS | Aug. 21, 2012

Hawaii Army National Guard Environmental Office works to eliminate invasive plants on Keaukaha Military Reservation

By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Jackson

HILO, Hawaii - The Hawaii Army National Guard Environmental Office has teamed up with the University of Hawaii in one of the largest efforts to date to eliminate the invasive miconia plant on Keaukaha Military Reservation near Hilo.

Native to South and Central America and introduced to Hawaii as a garden plant in 196, miconia is now on the Hawaii State Noxious Weed List. The plant forms thick stands and shades out native plants while completely taking over moist and wet forests causing erosion in the process.

"What it does is shade out everything, so nothing can grow under it," said Angelia Kieran-Vast, conservation program manager with the Environmental Office.

Eventually, that creates a desert forest, said Kieran-Vast.

"When you step into a regular forest you hear all kinds of sounds of life but when you go into a miconia forest you don't hear anything. Like a desert, it is silent."

The crew divided the property up in 100-meter wide tracks then traversed the dense undergrowth of the lowland wet forest looking for the Miconia plant. When a plant was found, the seedlings and immature plants were pulled while the larger plants are treated in place with herbicide. The sweeps started Aug. 13 and continued through the week locating around 4600 younger, and two flowering adult plants.

Miconia can grow from seed to mature seeding tree in four years, and mature tree can produce about three million seeds several times per year, said Kieran-Vast.

The number of Miconia found on KMR had a major increase in 2010 leading to a focused effort to eradicate the invasive plant.

"We have such a great forest out here and we just want to protect it," said Capt. Donna Wu of the Environmental Office, adding that quarterly sweeps are planned.