Story by Janice Crowl
Photo by Jack Wolford
If you want to restore a native Hawaiian rainforest in your own backyard, Tim Tunison says, “First, keep out the stompers and the chompers.” Good fences, he tells his workshop participants at the Volcano Art Center, can make good neighbors of pigs (stompers) and cattle (chompers), which devastate native plants. Tim should know: He spent twenty-three years as a resource manager and botanist for Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and now in retirement he restores native plants in the areas around the park. For the past seven years he’s been rehabilitating his three-acre property in Volcano by removing invasives such as kahili ginger and strawberry guava.
Now he’s teaching others to do the same. For a $10 donation per class, gardeners get tips on bringing some of old Hawai‘i back to their yards. Tim teaches how to cultivate hapu‘u ferns and the plants growing on them, like ‘olapa, ‘ohelo and pa‘iniu. He’ll show you how to fill in the understory with natives like naupaka kuahiwi and mamaki, which grow fast and suppress weeds.
To begin, Tim says, you have to find a “reference community” in your area with similar growing conditions. In his case it’s a patch of three-hundred-year-old forest at the Volcano Art Center’s Niaulani campus. Volcano residents study the forest—with flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world—as a model for what a local native forest should look like. Under an ancient canopy of ‘ohi‘a and koa trees, Tim recounts for workshop participants some of the rewards and surprises of backyard restoration, such as when a rare native species like the violet called ha‘iwale (“fragile” in Hawaiian) popped up in his yard all on its own. But for him it’s really about the birds: Native plants attract critically endangered endemic birds such as ‘apapane, ‘i‘iwi, ‘amakihi and ‘oma‘o.
Paul Freeman, a board member of the Volcano Community Association (which sponsors the classes), has attended all of Tim’s ongoing workshops. “It’s such a learning process. I spend about two hours a day removing invasives from my own backyard,” says Paul. “I love the beauty of the forest, and I want to do everything I can do to help it survive in its natural state.”