Green Hawaii: The Koa Trees of Hawaii Island

By: Brian Berusch

January 21, 2014

On the slopes of Mauna Kea, home of the State of Hawaii’s tallest point (4,000 meters), an outfit is replanting more than a thousand stripped acres with indigenous trees. The best part? In a land where locals ask that you take nothing (only photographs) and leave nothing (except footprints), you can spend a day planting a tree of your own. For eternity, you (and your grandchildren) can monitor the tree’s growth.

Group Planting Tree | The Koa Trees of Hawaii Island

Group planting a tree © Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods (HLH) began as an effort to replant a historic swath of land with native koa trees””an island hardwood known for its inherent beauty. Once the home of a healthy old growth koa forest that belonged to King Kamehameha, the land was clear cut over a century ago, initiating the rapid decline of native bird species as well endemic plants and flowers. The last decade of replanting here has brought back the native species and plant life that were meant to thrive in the islands.

Tour Group | The Koa Trees of Hawaii Island

Visitor group tour © Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods

Now HLH invites visitors to the island to take a tour of the historic lands, and plant a tree (you can “gift” a tree to a family member or friend and share with them photos and a video of the experience). Over 200,000 trees have already been planted, and HLH just announced a new phase in the effort””the introduction of a second endemic tree, Iliahi, or Hawaiian Sandalwood. The variety was on the brink of extinction nearly a century ago when builders prized it as one of the most expensive woods on earth.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods Tour | The Koa Trees of Hawaii Island

Take a tour of the historic lands © Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods

Got kids that are more into technology than digging in the dirt? HLH uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) embedded in the planted trees to give each a unique computer signature. A GPS system can locate and track the development of “your” tree. It can even find it for you on Google Earth so you can show friends back home, wherever that may be.

Header photo: Mauna Kea slopes with reforestation © Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods


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Written by Brian Berusch


Brian Berusch

Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.

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