Alien Invasion

Molokai Invasive Species Committee continues the fight

By Catherine Cluett

Molokai is known as the last Hawaiian island, and its residents take pride in their history, culture, and land. But with care of the land, comes care of plants and animals, and native species are often wiped out by invasive and non-native varieties. Controlling those predator species is a big job – one that MoMISC, or the Molokai/Maui Invasive Species Committee, has taken on with success.

MoMISC has been doing such outstanding work on the island, in fact, that this year, despite budget cuts across the board, all MoMISC positions will remain secure. This is due in part to the organization’s successful collaboration with other Molokai groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, the Molokai Land Trust, the Kalaupapa National Park, and the United States Department of Agriculture, to name a few.

“The collaboration on this island is unprecedented,” says Bill Garnett, who is involved with rare plant species recovery on Molokai.

The Targets
Albizia trees are, according to Ed Misaki of the Nature Conservancy, the world’s fastest growing tree. The species was originally introduced as a quickly-sustainable resource, but the albizia’s soon took over the Hawaiian landscape. Now they are considered an invasive species. They have infested every island, but so far, Molokai has only one stand of them.

Removal of the Albizia trees, located in a remote gulch in North Central Molokai, is the largest MoMISC project undertaken so far in one specific area, says Buchanan. As with any invasive species removal, native varieties will be planted in their place, to flourish where the alien species had one taken over. 

Other species targeted for future control on Molokai include fireweed, the Bo Tree, and long thorn kiawe.

Fireweed is an invasive species in the sunflower family that’s poisonous if ingested by cattle and other herbivores. The main source of current invasion on Molokai is through a cattle shipment from Maui after cattle had been grazing on infested pastures. MoMISC recommends to ranchers that they keep their cattle in a holding pen for one month after arrival from off-island farms. Garnett says this practice will reduce the spread of fireweed by 90% once the cattle have been released.

The Bo Tree is an expansive tree that becomes canopy dominant, crowding out other species. Its seed is spread by birds. There are only seven trees on Molokai, and MoMISC is hoping to control the species before it “goes crazy,” according to Garnett. He says the species originates from India, and is the same variety under which Buddha reportedly found enlightenment.

Long thorn kiawe is recognizable by its sprawling branches and long, sharp thorns. It grows and spreads rapidly, and can quickly impede beach access and threaten human safety. Garnett says its appearance seems to be restricted so far to Molokai’s West end beach areas. He adds that it appears to be spread by the ocean because the plants have been frequently found near high-tide lines. “It’s a nightmare,” Garnett says.

Rubber vine and Giant reed are two species that MoMISC has largely eradicated from Molokai with success. Rubber vine is a fast-growing climbing plant that smothers other species. It’s also poisonous to animals and humans. Giant reed, originally planted on the island as an ornamental, grows rapidly in moist areas and often leads to blockage of stream flow.

The goal of MoMISC is to remove all insipient species that pose a threat to native forests or human health. Prevention, detection and control are MoMISC’s guiding rules of thumb. Early detection is key to the effort.

If you see any species you suspect to be invasive, call MoMISC 553-5236 or visit to learn more.


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