Hawaii plans to update weed list Local environmentalists aren't waiting

Hawaii plans to update weed list Local environmentalists aren't waiting

Hawaii has renewed efforts to revamp the islands' official list of noxious weeds for the first time in 30 years, as foreign plants threaten native crops, habitats and ecosystems.

The state's noxious weed list includes 79 species, meaning the Department of Agriculture may target them for elimination and restrict the import and sale of plants and seeds.

But it has not been updated since 1992, and local ecologists are pushing to add several plant species, including Barbadian gooseberry, rubber vine, a second species of pampas grass, vertical ivy, and more.

The problem is compounded by the fact that plants from elsewhere are often used for weddings and other decorative purposes, and can be more easily obtained and sold commercially over the Internet, says Christy Martin, program manager of the Coordination Group on Exotic Pest Species.

“Sometimes the laws and rules don't match the need, and that's really what it's all about,” Martin said.

The Maui Invasive Species Committee continues its efforts to eradicate pampas grass.
Ecologists are taking matters into their own hands by eliminating potentially harmful weeds such as type II pampas grass. Courtesy: Maui Invasive Species Commission

There were efforts to update the list in 2020, but financial restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic weakened these efforts.

Helmuth Rogge, director of the Agriculture Ministry's plant industries division since last September, said he plans to pick up the pace early next year and could come up with a new draft list by the summer.

But he said the process of finalizing the new list could take up to two years because it would involve changing Hawaii's administrative rules in order to update the noxious weed list, including knowing which plants pose a threat to the state's environment and their cultivation.

The process will also include study of potential weed species, public comment, evaluations from advisory committees, legal advice and final approval from the Board of Agriculture.

“Revising the list of weed species will be a challenge,” Rogge said.

Barbados gooseberry is one of the plant species that environmentalists want to include on the noxious weed list.Barbados gooseberry is one of the plant species that environmentalists want to include on the noxious weed list.
Barbados gooseberry is one of the plant species that environmentalists want to include on the noxious weed list. Courtesy: Hawaii Invasive Species Council

Ecologists on county-level invasive species committees — which consist of volunteer partnerships between state government, private organizations, nonprofits, and community members — have taken matters into their own hands.

Invasive species committees are responsible for identifying plants that will be harmfully invasive and will go after them without having a “weed list to support,” Martin said. The committees rely on homeowners to remove plants voluntarily, but have difficulty convincing people to do so when the plant is not on the official list.

“The department created the rules and the list, but they don’t fit what the public needs now. Invasive species committees go after the more aggressive plants but can’t wait to get them on the list because it takes too long,” she said.

“It only takes one seed.”

An example is pampas grass, which is native to South America and is known for its golden feathery plumes that adorn weddings, homes and landscapes. The large clusters of dense, grass-like foliage can produce up to 30 columns, each containing thousands of seeds that are carried by the wind.

It is at the top of the target list for local ecologists.

While one species — Cortaderia jubata — is on the state's noxious weed list, the other — Cortaderia selloana — is not. Although both species are on the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' invasive species list, it is only an advisory list. The USDA Noxious Weed List allows for eradication and control efforts to rid the plants of noxious status.

There is also a federal list of noxious weeds, but it only regulates plants from other countries. The state regulates domestic imports.

“The federal government can remove federal weeds that grow in Hawaii, but it's really difficult to get a Hawaiian weed federally listed because these weeds are primarily weeds of major U.S. crops and national forests,” Martin said.

Pampas grass is famous for its delicate plumes, which adorn many social media posts, weddings and homes.Pampas grass is famous for its delicate plumes, which adorn many social media posts, weddings and homes.
Pampas grass is famous for its delicate plumes, which decorate social media, weddings and homes. Courtesy: Maui Invasive Species Commission

Pampas grass, which also comes in shades of pink and purple, has been in Hawaii since the 1920s, but the much taller Cortaderia jubata species only began arriving in 1991. It was placed on the prohibited list the following year because it spreads faster, according to Mike. Addie, plant coordinator for the Maui Invasive Species Committee.

However, he noted that both types of pampas grass produce seeds and spread quickly, so it is important to include them on the list to prevent the plant from spreading. The clumps can be up to 12 feet tall and span about eight feet in diameter.

“It only takes one seed,” Addy said.

Pampas grass not only affects native plants, but also poses a fire hazard due to its dry leaves. Its sharp leaves also make it difficult to remove.

Local efforts against the disease have yielded mixed results, with the Big Island announcing in 2020 that it had eradicated pampas grass.

Oahu is on the cusp of doing just that, with only three sites remaining, including the Makaiwa, Kaloi and Kihei watersheds, according to Erin Bishop, outreach coordinator for the Oahu Invasive Species Commission.

On the island of Maui, pampas grass inhabited the swamps, forests, and slopes of Haleakala. And it continues to spread.

“Here on Maui, we have a lot of open spaces and pristine environments that can be easily colonized,” said Serena Fukushima, outreach coordinator for the Maui Invasive Species Committee.

According to Addy, trade winds can carry seeds up to 20 miles away. He said the committee found the plants growing at altitudes of 2,000 to 9,850 feet.

The Maui Invasive Species Commission surveys 1,000 acres by land and 15,000 acres by air.The Maui Invasive Species Commission surveys 1,000 acres by land and 15,000 acres by air.
The Maui Invasive Species Commission surveys 1,000 acres by land and 15,000 acres by air. Courtesy: Maui Invasive Species Commission

Maui has been working to eradicate pampas grass since the late 1980s. So far, more than 50,000 weed plants of both species have been removed, according to committee data. It is unclear how many individual plants remain, but Fukushima said the committee visits 125 known pampas grass sites each year.

Franny Brewer, acting program director for the Big Island Invasive Species Commission, said plant eradication is not necessarily permanent since people can easily get it online these days. Dried pampas grass can be a problem if not dried properly, she said.

“We say it's gone from Hawaii Island, but with invasive species, you can never say never,” Brewer said.

some solutions

In addition to listing weeds, the groups try to educate the public about the dangers of invasive plants to the local environment.

Plant Pono is a website that provides information on alternatives to landscape promotion and responsible gardening. It also classifies plant species as low or high risk of becoming invasive in Hawaii.

The site is a partnership between the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, the Exotic Pest Species Coordination Team, the Hawaii Biological Information Network, and the Hawaii Landscape Industry Council.

Plant Pono gives users the opportunity to learn about plants that are harmful or less harmful to the environment.  . Plant Pono gives users the opportunity to learn about plants that are harmful or less harmful to the environment.  .
Plant Pono gives users the opportunity to learn about plants that are harmful or less harmful to the environment. Screenshot: Bono Factory

“It's just a way to further educate people,” Fukushima said. “We're not trying to accuse or enforce the law. We're just trying to work with our communities, so they don't bring these things.”

Fukushima stressed that Hawaii has a lot of native plants as well as non-invasive plants to use decoratively. She recommends using sugarcane as an alternative to pampas grass due to its similar properties.

Meanwhile, Rogge said that once he has a new list of noxious weeds finalized, he intends to review it every year.

“That's something I want to eventually get to — that we review some of these rules on a regular basis, not every 30 to 40 years. Because things in science change, so we can do the homework.”

Hawaii has grown“It is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Frost Family Foundation.

    (Tags for translation) Civil multiplication application 

You may also like...

Leave a Reply