A Love Fest in Hilo

by guest blogger, Franny Brewer

A Hydroflask covered with stickers is probably the ultimate Big Island accessory (I didn’t know this wasn’t a big thing everywhere until a trip to New Mexico, where I was the only person on the hiking trails toting along my silver one with all of its Hawaii-themed décor!). If you’ve seen folks carrying these around Hilo, then chances are you’ve encountered an `Ohi`a Love sticker, which is a must-have for any sticker collection.

`Ohi`a Love is the unofficial title of a movement across the state to protect our native `ohi`a trees. If you’re not on the Big Island, then you may not have had the opportunity to encounter these amazing trees in everyday life, but chances are you’ve seen the gorgeous lehua blossom in a lei, or heard the story about Lehua and her lover, `Ohi`a: cursed into separation by a jealous goddess, but brought back together by kinder gods to maintain their love for eternity. Legend has it that if you pluck the lehua blossom, you are separating the lovers and can expect the heavens to open and their tears to rain down upon you.

This may or may not be true (the weather in Hilo would suggest there are a lot of lehua being plucked!) but the more you learn about `ohi`a, the more you appreciate the tree as being just a little bit magic. `Ohi`a live and thrive from sea level to 9,000 ft. elevation, an impressive range for any plant. `Ohi`a have developed varieties for every situation – from small, fuzzy leaves good for higher elevations and drier areas, to the large shiny leaves that can gobble up lots of sunshine.

They’re able to colonize new lava flows as one of the first plants to move in and begin the cycle of life in Hawaii again once Pele has had her way with the land. `Ohi`a trees make up half the biomass in the forest and serve as nurse trees that encourage new forest life to grow. It’s not an exaggeration to say that `ohi`a is the keystone species of our Hawaiian ecosystems.

Sadly, a new disease has been killing our magical tree. Two strains of Ceratocystis fungus, never before described by science, are attacking `ohi`a on the Big Island, and have killed tens of thousands of acres so far. The disease is absent from many areas on the Big Island – like most of Hamakua and all of Kohala districts – and hasn’t yet been found on any other islands. However, conservation-minded folk from across the state are working hard to save the `ohi`a, with projects ranging from seed collecting to fungicide testing to beetle tracking.

You can learn more about `ohi`a, and the range of efforts to take care of this unique tree, at the `Ohi`a Love Fest on Sunday, August 27 at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. From 9am to 4pm, the `Ohi`a Love Fest will celebrate the wonder that is `ohi`a. The day will be filled with live music and entertainment, food, crafts and games, face painting, photo booth, and much more! If the bouncy castle isn’t your speed, don’t worry – talks from `ohi`a experts are scheduled throughout the day in Imiloa’s cool interior. Get more information at http://www.rapidohiadeath.org or follow Rapid `Ohi`a Death on Facebook.

Mark your calendar for the `Ohi`a Love Fest on Sunday, August 27 – and don’t forget to pick up your `Ohi`a Love sticker while you’re there!

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