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‘Treecovery’ initiative aims to rescue centuries-old ulu trees burned in Lahaina wildfire

By Rick Quan

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    LAHAINA, Hawaii (KITV) — While the recovery of Lahaina’s famous Banyan tree has gotten a lot of attention, there are thousands of other trees in West Maui that need help and attention. Among them is an ulu tree, believed to be at least 250 years old.

“We’ve lost, we’re estimating, probably about 85 to 90% of the trees and passed away. So we’ve got to grow that many more trees and put it back. So 20,000 to 30,000 trees that we can put back in life is a daunting task. We’ve got a lot of folks on it right now working toward that goal,” said Maui County arborist Duane Sparkman.

Sparkman is a member of a volunteer group called “Treecovery.” Its mission is save and plant as many trees as possible. An app helps him keep track of what needs to be done.

“And they say, ‘Can we go by and check this house? They have this many trees.’ And we go by and check those trees and let them know if they did survive or they didn’t. We GPS them on another app that we’re sharing with a watering company and they go around and water the trees on a GPS app. So we’re keeping the trees alive,” Sparkman explained.

Hundreds of years ago, ulu, or breadfruit trees, covered Lahaina and were a staple food for Native Hawaiians. In fact, the town was once called Malu ule o lele, which means the shaded breadfruit grove of Lele. One ulu tree named Puloa is believed to be at least 250 years old.

“Then once the fire happened, we were able to come in and peel the asphalt back and get water up on this tree. So we’re watering it and we’re hoping we will see some root sprouts come up. And if it does, we’re going to water those ulu sprouts. And if this tree comes down, it’s OK. Its babies are going to be the next generation and we’ll keep that one alive,” Sparkman said.

Sparkman became excited when he saw how another ulu tree has begun growing sprouts.

“So we’ve had really good success…this is starting to show an ulu leaf. We have ulu coming up. It’s pretty amazing. We’ve got a lot of life in this tree right now. And that’s really exciting because all of these can be collected, separated and grown out as the next generation of this plant,” he said.

Ten thousand ulu plants from the Big Island have been delivered to Maui and will be planted once they go through quarantine. Restoring the town’s greenery to what it once was will take decades, but the recovery has begun one sprout at a time.

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