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A Hawaii Christmas Tree Story | News, Sports, Jobs


Choosing local is a great way to eliminate the threat of invasive species arriving at your doorstep. Residents of Maui have the option of purchasing locally grown trees, cutting their own tree in the Kula Forest Preserve (with a permit), or using a native tree, like the alahee, as a festive alternative. MISCELLANEOUS photo

Nothing heralds the holiday season like the Christmas tree, but did you know most of Hawaii’s Christmas trees aren’t from here? This year, over 150 shipping containers are expected to arrive in our state, which equates to over 90,000 trees. About 99 percent of these are Douglas-fir and noble fir, grown and shipped from Oregon. Invasive pests unknown to Hawaii may lurk in their branches, but the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s elf inspectors remain on the front lines to keep these grumpy pests out.

From the field to the living room, a Christmas tree makes quite a trip to decorate your hallways. Helmuth Rogg, head of state regulation for the DOA, knows this all too well. Rogg served for 17 years as the scheduled state regulator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture before starting his post with the Hawaii Department last year.

“Oregon is the number one producer of Christmas trees in America and exports to over 36 countries. “ Rogg said. “The process begins long before the holidays when inspectors in Oregon check fields for infestations of specific pests, such as the Douglas-fir beetle. If there is an infestation, nothing in the field will be exported that year.

After an eight-year growth period, the trees are harvested from the farms and then airlifted to a staging area to prevent excessive amounts of mud from sticking to them. Once disembarked, they are picked up, cleaned and baled. Oregon inspectors then look for the pests by vigorously shaking the trees and patting their stumps on the ground to dislodge the hitchhikers before loading them into shipping containers. Before the container doors are closed, inspectors take out three random trees and shake them. If anything falls, the whole container is unloaded and the whole process starts over.

Once the Christmas trees are loaded into their containers, they are shipped to Hawaii and greeted by DOA inspectors. Three trees will be removed from each container and shaken on a white tarp. If inspectors find pests, the container is closed, sealed and put on hold. The store that ordered the trees will either return the container to its origin or pay DOA to clean the trees in a sealed quarantine facility. This process can take up to half a day with 10 inspectors, where all trees are unloaded, cleaned and reloaded into a sanitized container before going to the store.

Hawaii Department of Agriculture inspectors shake incoming Christmas trees on a white tarp and look for any invading hitchhikers. If pests are found, the store that ordered the trees will either return the container to its origin or pay DOA to clean the trees in a sealed quarantine facility before going to the store. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE photo

Even with all these efforts, the parasites still manage to sneak in. The most common pests on Hawaii Christmas trees are slugs and yellow jackets. In 2020, inspectors captured a live garter snake in a Christmas tree container. As long as trees are imported, the risk of accidental introduction remains. However, Rogg reassures, “So far this year, only three of the 150 containers that have arrived have had to be cleaned by DOA inspectors, or about 1% of Christmas tree arrivals.” Rogg, however, encourages the public to be vigilant.

“If something is hitchhiking on your Christmas tree, safely pick it up in a zippered bag, take a picture, put it in the freezer and report it to 643pest.org , where the authorities can identify it. “ Rogg said.

Want to completely eliminate the risk of invasive imported hitchhikers? Choose local. The Kula Botanical Garden is one of the state’s largest Christmas tree growers, with an assortment of backcountry-grown Monterey pines. Kula Kelly’s farm in Omaopio has a small selection of Norfolk pines. If you’re in the mood for a family adventure and want to cut down your own tree, the Department of Lands and Natural Resources issues collection permits for Monterey pines, 15 feet or less, for a fee of $ 10. Lance De Silva, Forest Management Supervisor in Maui DLNR Forestry and Wildlife Division, shares, “The Kula Forest Preserve is the only area in the state of Maui that is allowed to cut Christmas trees. If you would like to cut down your own Christmas tree, please call our office at (808) 984-8100.

Finally, alahee is a native option with a growth pattern similar to a Christmas tree and does well in pots, so it can be potted and used every year before planting it in your garden. Another bonus? Its tiny white blooms are reminiscent of faux orange blossoms, offering good news and joy far beyond the holidays.

* Serena Fukushima is the Public Relations and Education Specialist for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. She holds a BA in Environmental Studies and a Graduate Diploma in Education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Kia’i Moku, Guardian of the Island” is written by the Maui Invasive Species Committee to provide information on protecting the island from invasive plants and animals that threaten the environment, economy, and quality of life on our islands.

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