Seeding the future of the ʻōhiʻa tree

University of Hawaiʻi
Dan Meisenzahl, 808-348-4936
UH spokesman, Media Production
Marian Chau, 808-348-8023
Lyon Arboretum Seed Conservation Lab Manager, Lyon Arboretum
Posted: Feb 7, 2016


University of Hawaiʻi scientists are working diligently to protect and preserve the ʻōhiʻa tree, which is being threatened by Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, also known as ROD. The disease has already decimated more than 34,000 acres on Hawaiʻi Island, leaving once lush forests scattered with the white skeletons of dead ʻōhiʻa trees. To save the ʻōhiʻa tree from extinction, the Seed Conservation Laboratory at UH Mānoa’s Lyon Arboretum is launching a campaign in February 2016 to fund an effort to collect and bank ʻōhiʻa seeds.

“They call it Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death because if an individual tree dies very quickly once it gets infected you’ll see the leaves all turn brown and fall off in a couple of weeks,” said JB Friday, extension forester with the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “We think we started seeing it spreading in 2010, by 2012 there were hundreds of trees dying, by 2014 there were tens of thousands, and now we’re talking hundreds of thousands or millions of trees.

ʻŌhiʻa trees cover 865,000 acres and ʻōhiʻa is considered by many to be the most important tree in Hawaiʻi. Half of the native trees on Hawaiʻi Island are ʻōhiʻa. Native birds and tree snails, many of them endangered, live and feed on them.

“We currently have about 30 species that still exist and all but a half a dozen of those are already considered to be endangered,” said Sheila Conant, emerita professor with the UH Mānoa biology department. “Without the ʻōhiʻa forest most of those birds would have nowhere to go.”

Their canopy protects the innumerable smaller trees and native shrubs, creating the watershed that recharges our water supply.

Said Kalena Silva, professor with UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani, “There is an old Hawaiian proverbial saying, he aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauā ke kanaka, the land is chief and the people are its servants. And so we remember, that the ʻōhiʻa doesn’t need us, we need it.”

Said Marian Chau of Lyon Arboretum’s Seed Conservation Laboratory, “Donated funds will help us to make collections of ʻōhiʻa seeds from areas of Hawaiʻi Island that are most at risk and it will also allow us to make collections here on Oʻahu that are endemic only to the island of Oʻahu.”

The seed conservation lab has been storing native Hawaiian seeds for more than 20 years and currently banks more than 12 million seeds.

“Our mission is to help prevent extinction of Hawaiʻi’s rare plant species and seed banking is proven method to accomplish this,” said Chau.

Seeds can be stored for decades until the appropriate time where they can be reintroduced.

For more information go to



VIDEO B-ROLL (1 minute, 55 seconds):

  • Lyon Arboretum sign (1 shot)
  • Lyon Arboretum seed lab building (1 shot)
  • Inside of seed lab and researchers working with ʻōhiʻa seeds (7 shots)
  • Picking ʻōhiʻa seeds in the wild (1 shot)
  • Aerial of dying ʻōhiʻa trees (1 long shot)
  • Dying ʻōhiʻa trees (1 shot)
  • Aerial of healthy ʻōhiʻa trees (1 shot)
  • Healthy ʻōhiʻa trees (2 shots)
  • ʻōhiʻa flower

Additional photos:



Marian Chau – Seed Conservation Lab Manager, UH Mānoa Lyon Arboretum (16 seconds)

“Donated funds will help us to make collections of ʻōhiʻa seeds from areas of Hawaiʻi Island that are most at risk. It will also help to make collections on here on Oʻahu of species of metrosideros that are endemic only to the island of Oʻahu.”


J. B. Friday – Extension Forester, UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (13 seconds)

“This disease has the potential for wiping out large areas of ʻōhiʻa forest. What will happen with that is we’ll just get weeds coming in the forest once we wipe that out. What that will do to the watershed function is anybody’s guess, but it probably isn’t good for the watershed.”


Kalena Silva – Hawaiian Studies Professor, UH Hilo (13 seconds)

“I can’t even think about what the impact might be, it’s unimaginable. It would be devastation, I think, really, not just for our natural landscape but for the cultural landscape of our people.”


Sheila Conant – Emerita Professor of Biology, UH Mānoa (9 seconds)

“The small native forest birds, like the ʻiʻiwi and the ʻapapane get all of their food in the ʻōhiʻa forest. They take nectar from the flowers, they also take insects and other invertebrates from the flowers, the leaves, the branches, the stems, and even the bark of ʻōhiʻa trees.”