Hawaii is home to about 800 endangered plant species, and 42 endangered birds, many of which rely on koa forests for their survival. The unique and delicate koa tree forests of Hawai'i are all affected by invasive species and biological threats, but chief among them in our area is the fast-growing, invasive strawberry guava tree. On Bokoa Farms property, and in much of the Hamakua Coast area, strawberry guava has decimated the once majestic koa forests, upon which scores of native species rely. Our business model was conceived with the intent to do native reforestation in an economically sustainable way. We asked how we could use invasive species to fund native reforestation, and realized we could build a business around barbecue smoking wood. All of our products, and our business itself, were born from our love of this forest, and our desire to restore it, all without the use of government grants or charitable donations.
Pushing down Strawberry Guava
Strawberry guava, or waiawi, is an aggressive and fast-growing invasive tree that has severely damaged much of the native forest land in Hawaii. Introduced many decades ago for its edible fruit, the tree’s seed has been spread prolifically by pigs and birds. Waiawi grows in dense thickets. The tree itself grows tall and thin, and very quickly, out-competing native trees and plants for sunlight and nutrients. Typical waiawi trees in on the Hamakua coast grow 20-30 feet tall, with a trunk that is only two or three inches in diameter in just a couple of years. The more mature trees can grow to more than forty feet tall with a trunk of twelve inches or more. The trees grow so densely in thickets that a person cannot even walk through them. In our picture gallery, you will see that the trunks are only inches apart from each other. The wood itself is dense and difficult to cut. Of our 150 acres, about half of it has advanced waiawi infestation, and all of it is at least somewhat affected.
We do not curse this tree though, as it is now a part of the ecosystem. Instead we have decided to make the best of it, and use it for what it provides – chiefly, great barbecue. But, there is so much strawberry guava (about 50,000 tons on our property) that when we do remove it, we replant that area with koa. This helps to restore some balance, a couple of acres at a time.
A beautiful Koa tree we saved before the Guava could kill it
The famous endemic koa tree also grows well on our land, but where koa and invasive waiawi meet, the waiawi always wins. The invasive waiawi is highly attracted to the nitrogen fixing properties of the native koa tree, and it grows in such dense thickets around the koa stands, that it completely suffocates the koa, robbing it of sun and nutrients, and eventually killing it. Nearly every single koa tree at our elevation on Mauna Kea has either been killed or is in the process of being killed by waiawi. In this part of the Big Island, only the koa trees that are actively protected by human interdiction are safe.
Of course koa wood needs little introduction. As one of the rarest and most beautiful woods in the world, it is highly sought after for use in luxury furniture, musical instruments, bowls and many other products. As we restore the forest, we often find dead koa trees that are rotting away. We mill and sell the wood from these dead trees to help pay for our ongoing efforts. We never cut or damage healthy trees. The seeds of the koa tree are viable for up to 100 years, so when we scarify the ground near a koa stand, dozens of seedlings begin growing within a couple of months. We selectively prune and thin the new koa so healthy stands will grow. We also transplant koa seedlings to areas we have prepared in order to further propagate the species.
For each dead koa tree we mill and sell, we propagate and grow about 50-100 new koa trees. With every purchase of Bokoa Farms koa wood, you help to restore the natural ecosystem and replant Hawaiian forests.