Hawaii’s Ohia Trees under Threat Due To Spread of Infectious Fungus

Hawaii officials said that a newly discovered fungus is killing ohia trees that are crucial to Hawaii’s water supply, endangered native birds and Hawaiian cultural traditional like hula.

Several state and federal agencies have come together to address the disease known as ‘rapid ohia death’ or ‘ohia wilt’. So far several efforts have been adopted to identify control techniques for the mysterious strain of fungus.

The scientists until last year were not aware that the fungus is the major culprit for massive die-offs reported within ohia forests in Puna. Since then it has spread across the island to Kona, and most recently was confirmed in Ka‘u.

The infectious fungus is capable of killing a mature ohia tree in a matter of weeks, and has an average mortality rate of about 50% in ohia stands that have been inspected. Officials said if the condition worsen the mortality rate can be 90% or even higher in some areas.

At a press conference held on Wednesday at the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, researchers and representatives from government agencies gathered to discuss the extent of the problem.

Experts even described different ways through which Hawaii residents can help to prevent the spread of ohia wilt, both on the Big Island and throughout the state.

Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case during a press conference in Honolulu said, “Ohia trees cover more than 1 million acres statewide, and ohia is widely considered the most important forest tree in Hawaii”.