Five Local Nurseries Pass the “Plant Pono” Test

Six retail nurseries on the Big Island are the latest to receive an endorsement for their commitment to preventing the spread of invasive species. The Plant Pono program, a state wide initiative being implemented on Hawai’i island by the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC), recognizes nurseries who implement best practices for control of certain pests and who agree not to import, sell or propagate any potentially invasive plant species.
“I really want to improve the land and beautify it, not cause damage with invasive plants and animals [like] little fire ant and coqui,” says Jacque Green, owner of Green’s Garden Gifts and Things. Her nursery is one of the latest to have earned the Plant Pono endorsement, along with ESP Nursery, Nui Loa Hiki nursery, Sustainable Bioresources, Tropical Edibles, and Pana’ewa Foliage. They joined The Nursery, Inc., Southern Turf, Kalaoa Gardens, and South Kona Nursery, which were the first Big Island businesses to receive endorsements in early 2015.
To maintain the endorsement, nurseries must undergo annual surveys by BIISC early detection specialists and implement stringent prevention measures against invasive pests developed by the Hawaii Ant Lab and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaii. Nurseries can play a critical role in preventing the spread of pest plants and animals. Invasive species are defined as introduced organisms that cause harm to the economy, environment, or human health. Worldwide, 10–?15% of introduced species become invasive. Many invasive plants, such as miconia and Himalayan (kahili) ginger, were originally introduced as ornamentals and spread through planting by garden enthusiasts before expanding into natural areas and disrupting native ecosystems.
Potted plants were identified as one of the top vectors in the spread of Little Fire Ant, which have cost millions for government and businesses in Hawai’i since they were first detected on the Big Island in 1999. Subsequent surveys completed in 2002 revealed populations of LFA from Kalapana to Laupahoehoe, indicating the ants were already present and well spread across the Puna and Hilo areas before they were noticed.
“Getting nurseries involved in detecting and preventing the spread of pest animals and plants just makes sense,” according to Jimmy Parker, botanist and coordinator of BIISC’s early detection team. “Very often we find that invasive plants are sold unknowingly by nurseries and then planted by well–?meaning citizens and landscapers. A Plant Pono endorsement lets the public know the plants they have purchased will not become the next albizia or miconia.”
The likelihood of a plant being invasive in Hawaii can be predicted accurately thanks to an online assessment tool called the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment (HPWRA). HPWRA was developed by botanists from Hawaii and around the globe, and uses 49 questions about a plant’s biology, ecology, and weedy tendencies elsewhere in the world to score its potential invasive threat. HPWRA is 95% accurate in identifying invasive plants. More than a thousand plants have already been assessed and can be viewed on the website, which also suggests safe alternatives to invasive ornamentals. While the Plant Pono program reserves the endorsement for exemplary nurseries, the risk assessment tool is free and available on to any nursery or home gardener considering adding a new plant to their collection. The Plant Pono program was initiated in 2014 by the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS) and is funded through the Hawaii Invasive Species Council and the U.S. Forest Service.
Contact information for all Plant Pono nurseries is available on the BIISC website at

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