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Still Need A Christmas Tree? Try An ??hi?a

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Michael Rivera/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
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Decorating the tree is among our most treasured Christmas traditions. But these iconic holiday centerpieces may be harboring some harmful critters.

"Pests species — lizards, slugs, wasps, that kind of thing," said Franny Brewer, the Communications Director for the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC).

Imported Christmas trees are a common way that invasive species hitch a ride to Hawai'i, and Brewer and her team are trying to raise awareness about the risks of out-of-state trees and other decorative plants.

"We do a really big push around this time of year to get people to think about what they're purchasing and where that came from," says Brewer.

For those of us who can't imagine Christmas without a tree, Brewer suggests reaching out to local nurseries to see what they have to offer. Several popular species of cypress and pine are grown throughout the islands.

"Look, there's also these wonderful local alternatives that you can buy that were grown here and are really part of the Hawaiian ecosystem," she said.

But Christmas trees aren't the only for people to incorporate local greenery into their holiday celebrations. This year, BIISC is also encouraging people to give ??hi?a seedlings as gifts.

Molly Murphy is the Plant Pono Specialist for BIISC. Plant Pono endorses nurseries that don't sell invasive species and runs a website where people can look up common garden varieties to see if they are invasive.

"A lot of people seem not to know what native species look like," said Murphy. "And then another problem is supply. It's hard to find places that actually sell native plants."

For this project, Plant Pono was able to find nine nurseries that sell ??hi?a seedlings on Hawai?i island. But Murphy said that an ??hi?a is more that just a beautiful gift for your favorite gardener.

"It's the most important, most abundant native tree throughout the whole state," said Murphy. "Most of our water comes from ??hi?a forests. It's perfect for capturing water and recharging the aquifer, and keeping our soil intact."

Plus, planting ??hi?a in our backyards may help our native forests recover their numbers. In the past decade, two fungal pathogens have caused an outbreak of a new disease, Rapid ??hi?a Death (ROD). It has infected and killed hundreds of thousands of native ??hi?a on Hawai?i island.

But this past summer, research from a year-long study by US Geological Survey showed that ??hi?a seedlings might have a much higher chance of surviving ROD.

"The USGS team led by Stephanie Yelenik looked at if you plant young ??hi?a in areas that had significant canopy death from Rapid ??hi?a Death, would those young trees survive..." said Brewer, "and what they found was that absolutely none of the saplings got Rapid ??hi?a Death."

While we can't have a white Christmas in Hawai?i, we can certainly have a green one. 
 

Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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