It used to be that the Hawaiian ecosystems with the highest diversity of plant species were moist and wet forests. Today, the highest plant diversity can be found in our yards and botanical gardens, and the number of plant species introduced to Hawaii grows each year. Although the vast majority of Earth’s 250,000+ plant species would not be invasive if imported and grown in our islands, a small percentage would be superweeds that alter the ecosystem or natural resources. Plants are not checked for their potential to become invasive when they are imported, and our noxious seed and weed rules regulate less than 100 species of plants, most of which are already present in Hawai‘i.
Now, there is a new website that can help everyone make informed plant choices. Plant Pono (www.plantpono.org) provides planting information on non-invasive ornamental plants (pono plants), to help you select the right plant for your yard. These pono plants were selected by noted horticulturist Heidi Bornhorst, and were screened by the Hawaii-Pacific Weed Risk Assessment (HPWRA) system, a highly-accurate predictor of invasiveness.
The website also allows users to search the more than 1400 plants that have been screened by the HPWRA to date. The HPWRA is like a free background check for plants, which uses professional plant screeners to research published information to answer 49 questions about the plant, resulting in a prediction that is more than 90% accurate at flagging invasive plants.
If you want to know whether a plant is invasive or not, just type in the common or Latin name, or part of the name to automatically search the database. If the plant has not yet been screened, you can request this free service by filling out our online form.
The Plant Pono Forum is also a feature of the new site. The forum is a moderated page for questions and answers on invasive plants, and we hope it will become a valuable resource to see archived discussions.
Fountain grass, miconia, Australian tree fern, pampas grass: each of these plants were imported and sold as ornamentals, and each have spread far beyond their intended ornamental setting. Some threaten the watershed, others are fire promoters, and all of them are replacing native ecosystems. When these plants were imported and promoted, we didn’t have online resources or the HPWRA to alert us to the threat. Today, with www.plantpono.org, we have the tools to significantly reduce the importation and use of invasive plants, and that’s pono.
Christy Martin is the Public Information Officer for the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, a voluntary public-private partnership working to protect Hawaii from invasive species.