A fungus is killing the ohia trees in Hawaii, which are known for being vital to the water supplies. The disappearance of the trees could endanger the native birds and could stop the region’s hula tradition.
The rapid ohia death or the ohia wilt are the names used for the dangerous fungus that has been ravaging the important trees. New reports show that millions of ohia trees have been affected. The disease can lead to the death of a mature tree in a couple weeks and it has a varying mortality risk between 50% and 90%, depending on the area.
Research from last year shows that the disease affected 50% of the ohia lehua trees in a forest of 6,000 acres. Unfortunately, since then, the rapid ohia death has spread a lot more. The mysterious disease was discovered only last year, in the forests of Puna. Since then, it spread to the Kona and Ka’u island.
The forest health coordinator of the area, Robert Hauff, says that further research will be done in 2016, in order to see precisely which areas are affected by the fungus. An expert on similar diseases will go to Hawaii in order to understand how they can control and stop the disease. Hauff said that if the disease won’t be stopped quickly, the disease could spread around the state and reduce the ohia forests really quickly. He also said that things don’t look good for now.
Ohia lehua, also known as Metrosideros polymorpha, is a species of evergreen tree that has flowers and is regularly found on six of the Hawaii islands. Many Hawaiian people consider it a sacred tree, which belongs to the volcano goddess and to the hula goddess. These trees grow easily on lava and are usually the first plants found on new lava flow.
Some of the native birds feed with the nectar produced by the tree’s flowers. They are also important for the environment, because they create a cover for the plants that grow underneath them. The water supply of the state also depends on the ohia lehua tree, because these trees have the ability to soak a lot of water and help refill the watershed.
The Department of Agriculture in Hawaii has decided to take a stand against the fungus that is killing the ohia trees. People are now banned from taking wood or flowers from the ohia lehua trees from one island to another. People are also suggested to keep their shoes, clothes and tools before coming in contact with the tree.
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