FIRST PERSON: The ‘inseparable bond’ between Hawaiian culture and native plants

The 17 goals agreed by the global community to reduce poverty and create a sustainable planet are the responsibility of all people, wherever they are in the world, according to the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs represent a boundary-pushing blueprint for the future of the Earth and it’s anticipated they will be realized by 2030. UN News joined the International Labour Organization on a visit to Hawaii where many people are already living aspects of the goals in their everyday work.

Mike Demotta is the Curator of Living Collections at Hawaii’s National Tropical Botanical Garden on the island of Kauai. He is passionate about his speciality, native plants and the important role they play in Hawaiian culture. Ahead of the International Day of Forests, marked annually on 21 March he explained to UN News why saving biodiversity on the Pacific island archipelago is so crucial.

“The majority of the plants that are grown here are native Hawaiian plants and many are federally listed as rare and endangered. One plant that the garden has been working with over decades is called alula in Hawaiian. It’s generally found or was found mostly on the cliffs around the island of Kauai.

‘The Lone Ranger’ facing extinction

It looks almost cactus-like, with a very thick stem which is quite bulbous at the base. It produces fibrous roots which are able to penetrate fine cracks and hold itself to steep rocks; it has large flat rounded green leaves and looks almost like a cabbage. I love this plant because it has adapted to live and thrive in the harshest of environments that the islands can throw at it. 

However, this plant is under threat due to habitat degradation, loss of pollinators and invasive species, like non-native grasses that choke out seedlings and goats which were brought here in the early 1800s and which eat them.  

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