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Addressing Critical Areas With Molokai Land Trust

The Molokai Land Trust (MLT) manages a preserve of over 1600 acres and operations are overseen by Director Butch Haas. Much of the area was once old cattle pastures that have been overgrazed, but there are still some small pockets of native Hawaiian plant treasures left. Butch Haas has a vision to expand these pockets and to one day have native species dominating the preserve. A large portion of the preserve is denuded land that has been reduced to hard pan soil after years of wind and water erosion coupled with overgrazing. Their initial plan is to re-vegetate these area with natives. The Molokai Land Trust is in need of a low cost way to establish plants.

The Ho'olehua Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Hoolehua, Hawaii is currently working with MLT to develop a technique to establish natives using only natural rainfall in critical areas with about 20” annual rainfall and have windswept soils that are denuded of all vegetation. The technique focuses on creating an environment that encourages seedling development. It involves ripping the exposed soil 3-4” deep, covering the ripped soil with a light layer of mulch that will cool the surface, retain moisture and yet, not inhibit seed germination, an application of fertilizer to strengthen seedlings, and a mix of plant seed that is well adapted to the harsh conditions. The pictures below are of one of three 10’x20’ plots that were successfully established on the land trust.

Surface cover evaluation at MLT. A mix of native plants established on MLT hardpan.
Surface cover evaluation at MLT. A mix of native plants established on MLT hardpan.

Using native plants naturally found in the area, the PMC created a seed mix that would be specifically suited to the preserve. These plants included Chenopodium oahuense (aweoweo), Dodonaea viscosa (aalii), Heteropogon contortus (piligrass), and Waltheria indica (uhaloa). Although choosing the right species is important, the timing of the planting is even more crucial. In PIA, there are essentially 2 seasons; the wet and the dry. By planting the seed just before the rainy season, seedlings that do emerge will be able to take full advantage of the entire season to establish themselves. We are very excited about this project and believe it could open a lot of doors for the commercial seed market.