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Who we are in conservation...

Our mission at Waimea Valley is to preserve and perpetuate the human, cultural and natural resources.  Waimea Valley is a committed and active partner in the conservation and management of natural resources on a local and global scale.

Contact: Laurent Pool, Conservation Specialist Phone: (808) 638-5877 or

Our Goals

Waimea Valley is a place where conservation of natural resources and culture go hand in hand.  Careful monitoring and restoration of native ecosystems within the ahupua’a of Waimea Valley shall demonstrate how cultural uses and gathering can encourage stewardship from within the local community.  An ahupua’a, or wathershed, is an ancient Hawaiian concept of resource use and management of a particular division of land that connects the mountains to the reefs and the sea.  We will continue our commitment to protect and restore our ahupua’a for further generations.

Our Future

Waimea Valley will protect and enhance the native ecosystems throughout the ahupua’a.  We will make our valley the model of how to incorporate the conservation of natural and cultural resources by fusing modern and ancient concepts. By using and promoting the use of alternative energy sources, we will conserve economic and environmental resources. In creating and sustaining partnerships with like-minded organizations, we will be part of a local movement of proper stewardship.

`Alae `ula 'alae'ula - Hawaiian Morehen

The Valley is proud to be home to almost a dozen of the endangered `Alae `ula or Common Hawaiian Moorhen.  There are only a few hundred of these birds left with small populations on O’ahu and Kauai.  Waimea Valley is an ideal place for this secretive bird due to the presence of an estuary with the necessary combination of open water and vegetative cover. With vigilant predator control and constant management of the habitat, we will help the population to endure.

Native Forest Restoration

In an effort to assist the native forests on the ridges and slopes of Waimea Valley, we have begun pre-restoration research studies on the control of invasive species.  Several areas with lama, wiliwili, koa, ‘ohi‘a ‘ai, ‘ohi‘a lehua, and alahe‘e have been identified as key restoration sites.  Restoring the upland forests is believed to enhance the watershed and therefore improve the water quality and quantity for the valley.  Waimea Valley will be working closely with the Ko‘olau Mountains Watershed Partnership and volunteer groups to accomplish this task.

 Invasive Species

Through the years, many purposeful and also accidental introductions of species has happened in Hawaii.  Some of these species have wreaked havoc on the native Hawaiian ecosystems.  Species such as strawberry guava, Albizia (Paraserianthes), ungulates, and mongoose are examples.  Some species are far beyond the point of eradication and are now at a stage of containment.

In Waimea Valley, we are working with the Ko’olau Mountains Watershed Partnership Hibiscadelphus distans(KMWP) to map the different plant communities to further understand the distribution.  In doing this we have indentified certain areas that posses a high percentage of native plants.  These kipukas of native plants are our priority areas and we will continue to do what we can to remove and prevent the encroachment of invasive species within these areas.  

Plant Conservation

Waimea’s conservation efforts focus primarily on Hawai`i’s endangered dryland plant species and culturally important plant varieties. Much of our work in the coming decades will be aimed at restoring the valley’s ancient lama forests that surround our existing plant collections. There is still time to rescue these centuries-old native ebony trees from invasive banyan trees and alien vines. We will also have access to higher elevation planting areas in the upper Valleys where undisturbed soils will be ideal for native plant reintroductions. There will be rewarding out-planting work for many lifetimes. The existing 35 gardens along the road to the waterfall have had a cultivation history for over 30 years.  The large native gardens closer to the front of the Valley and seeds collected from this ahupua`a will be the source for our restoration plants.  The plants from our non native gardens were chosen for their rarity, beauty, unusual forms or odd behavior. Some of these mature collections of non native plants, backed up by thorough collection data, are every bit as threatened as our Hawaiian flora.  Many of these collections are from fragile island ecosystems, and they face the same extinction pressure from alien weeds and habitat destruction. Many of these plants have fascinating conservation stories – triumphs and tragedies - which put Hawaii’s extinction crisis in a larger perspective.

Kokia Cookei Blossom
Photo credit: Richard Cooke
Waimea Valley’s location near the northern end of the Ko`olau Mountains chain gives us a drier climate than other botanical gardens in the state. This ahupua`a allows us to grow many of Hawai`i’s most endangered dryland species. The Malvaceae plant family which gives us hibiscus, cotton and okra is almost over-represented in the Hawaiian flora. Waimea has an extensive native hibiscus collection, including all three subspecies of our state flower, the winter-blooming, Ma`o hau hele, Hibiscus brackenridgei. Another major genus in this family is Abutilon. We have multiple collections from most of the remnant populations of the three endangered, endemic species of Hawaiian Abutilon, Ko`oloa `ula.  Two genera in this family, Kokia (Koki`o) and Hibiscadelphus (Hau kuahiwi), are exclusively Hawaiian. The latter has curved flowers which co-evolved with their honeycreeper (bird) pollinators.

Kokia trees have some of the most spectaculars flowers in the Hawaiian flora. Their closest relatives are African cotton trees. Kokia cookei was first seen and described by a European botanist on west Moloka’i in the 1860’s. No one could find this rare tree until Joseph Rock found two trees in 1910, one alive and one dead. Upon returning in 1915 only 4 seeds could be collected from the last dying tree. Wild trees were never seen again. One of those seeds was planted at George Paul Cooke’s property at Kauluwai, Moloka’i . The tree lived until 1955, and seedlings were seen until 1970 when it appeared, the last plant had died. A few years later, a lone, forgotten plant was discovered nearby.

Botanists from Waimea visited that last tree in 1976 and brought back pencil-sized cuttings. These were grafted onto plants of the other two species of Kokia. By 1978, the first grafted branch was flowering at Waimea . The next year that last tree on Moloka’i was destroyed by fire.

For 25 years, Waimea grew, propagated, and distributed grafted clones of K.cookei to many botanical institutions and horticulturists. These flower and fruit, but the seeds have never germinated on their own.  In November of 2003, one recipient, Keith Robinson of Moloka’i, returned the favor by giving Waimea a seedling he produced from his grafted plant. This four foot plant is the only K. cookie growing on its own roots on O’ahu. Several other true K. cookei plants, now in a nursery on Maui, have been produced using a micropropagation technique in which the embryo is surgically removed from the seed and grown in an artificial medium.

Waimea has a good fruiting specimen of one of Hawaii’s rarest hardwood trees, the uhiuhi, Caesalpinia kavaiensis, from which we will be distributing seedlings. The genus Schiedea is in the carnation family, but you wouldn’t know it from its flowers. Five of its endangered, endemic species grow at Waimea, and the rarest, S. adamantis, only comes from Diamond Head crater. The mēhamehame tree, Flueggea neowawrea, used to be one of the largest in the native forests until it was almost extirpated by a tiny invasive borer. Thanks to the Army’s environmental arm, several are growing at Waimea.

Three-quarters of Hawai`i’s endemic palm species, loulu, all in the genus Pritchardia, are represented at Waimea. Recently, botanists working on the revision of the genus compared specimens at Waimea  with palms in the wild.

About 300 plant species growing in Waimea Valley are listed as endangered. Over half are Hawaiian, and for many of these we have multiple collections. The plants of all over the world have been brought to Waimea at great expense and effort. We owe it to their countries of origin where, in many cases, plant conservation is an unthinkable luxury. It’s a two-way street. The nene goose would be as gone as the dodo bird if eggs had not been nurtured in England. Nearly a third of Waimea’s plants have grown from seeds or cuttings collected in their natural range. Our plant records of what was growing in what location historically will be of great value to future restoration projects.

Hawaiian Damselfly

Hawaiian DamselfliesRecently, Waimea Valley was chosen as a site for a translocation project of a threatened species of Hawaiian Damselflies.  By the end of this year we plan to have the Orange-black Hawaiian Damselfly, Megalagrion xanthomelas, in Waimea Valley.

In order to keep this damselfly off of the endangered species list, Waimea Valley has been collaborating with the Hawai`i Department of Aquatic Resources, the Army Natural Resources Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bishop Museum to create a suitable habitat.  The site has been out-planted with native Hawaiian plants that surround a solar powered set of ponds.  These ponds have been separated from the natural stream due to the presence of non-native fish.  The presence of these invasive species has driven the damselflies into this threatened state of existence

Erythrina Gall Wasp

Erythrina Gall WaspA new invasive insect species was detected in 2005 when people noticed grossly deformed buds and leaves on the wiliwili trees. A wasp from Africa had hitchhiked on a shipment of plants from Taiwan. Once it got here it multiplied furiously feasting on the new growth of every wiliwili it could get to – in dryland forests, yards, and in landscaping and reforestation projects, as it was always considered one of the toughest of our native trees.

The arrival of the gall wasp was devastating to farmers, because one sterile variety of Erythrina was used as a windbreak all across the state, and it turned out to be the most susceptible.

Waimea has one of the world’s most diverse collections of trees in the genus Erythrina, so researchers visited Waimea to measure the wasps’ effect on so many different species planted in one place. We noticed that some African species did not develop galls. One of our visitors, Mosman Ramadan, went to Tanzania where he found another wasp that controls the Erythrina gall wasp. University of Hawaii researchers came to Waimea to release the first predator wasps in December of 2008. Many of the natural wiliwilis in the forests surrounding Waimea Valley are barely hanging on. We will know within a few months if this new biocontrol is effective.