Plants bound for California are first hot-water-treated at the nursery by Mark Akiyama (left) of California Hawaii Foliage Growers, Inc., observed by Arnold Hara (right) and Margarita Hopkins, Hawai‘i County Department of Research and Development. (Photo: Susan Cabral)
Hawai‘i’s flower and foliage industry generates upwards of $15.5 million dollars each year. So when contamination by pests and alien species threatened the industry’s exports—as it did for 60 days in 2009— growers turned to CTAHR experts for help. The industry needed to find ways to disinfest plants of “quarantine” pests, including fire ants, nettle caterpillars, scales, plant-parasitic nematodes, mealybugs, and coqui frogs and eggs.
Arnold Hara and team members Ruth Niino-DuPonte, Marcel Tsang, Charles Nelson, Susan Cabral, Kris Aoki, Jon Katada, and Andrew Kawabata developed several treatments to disinfest flowers and foliage before shipping. Their innovations included designing a mobile container that bathed nursery products in a hot-water spray. The team traveled statewide to teach growers to identify pests and use the treatments to eliminate them.
In one case last fall, a Big Island nursery had sent a $6,000 shipment to California, only to have it rejected and destroyed because inspectors found a single coqui frog. Nursery manager Enrique Martinez contacted Hara for help. Since then, his nursery uses the container at least three times a week. “If it weren’t for that container, I don’t know what we would do,” said Martinez. “We would definitely be hurting, because 90 percent of our plants are sent to California.”
CTAHR’s quick response enabled Hawai‘i’s ornamentals industry to continue shipping products interisland and exporting to California, Guam, and Japan. Within two months of the export ban, our floral and foliage industry was thriving again. Today, the new treatments are standard practice in Hawai‘i. Despite the temporary ban on our flowers and foliage, there was a silver lining. “There was an increase in demand for Hawai‘i foliage after the ban,” said Hara, “because while our products were not passing inspection, vendors ordered from other places and realized that Hawai‘i’s flowers and plants are of superior quality.”