Christmas Tree Demonstration Project

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The Give Back to the Forest Program is a new program being created by the Hawai‘i Forest Institue (HFI) in partnership with the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association (HFIA).

The Give Back to the Forest Christmas Tree Demonstration Project involves importing and propagating seed and outplanting 1,600 trees (Douglas fir, Noble fir, and Grand fir) on two acres of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) land in Humu‘ula on Hawai‘i Island.  Our goal is to demonstrate that top quality Christmas trees can be successfully grown here in Hawai‘i.  We will be planting mostly Douglas Fir, some Noble Fir, and a few Grand Fir.

Seeds are being imported from the mainland and propagated by Aileen Yeh (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center) at the Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW) State Nursery in Kamuela, in collaboration with DOFAW Nursery Forester Jacob Witcraft. Outplanting of the seedlings will be done by volunteers.  Plant experts will talk to the volunteers about the purpose of the project, the benefits of planting Christmas trees locally as opposed to importing them, and give planting demonstrations.  This web page has been initiated to provide public education about the benefits of planting trees and protecting and perpetuating Hawaii’s forests.

According to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, shipments of Christmas trees from the Pacific Northwest have been found to be widely infested with slugs and other pests that are not found in Hawai‘i. The concern about the heavy infestation of slugs is that they may carry the parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, or rat lungworm, which causes a disease that affects the human brain and spinal cord.  Once an invasive pest or disease becomes established in Hawai‘i, it may have a devastating impact on Hawai‘i agriculture by causing damage to crops and is often costly for the state and growers to control.  These invasive species can be very harmful to Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems. Providing the Hawaiian Islands with locally grown Christmas trees will support import replacement and promote the “Buying Local, It Matters” message.   

The expected result of this demonstration project is a successful Christmas tree farm on two acres of land at an elevation of 6,500 feet.  Our intent is to show that Douglas fir, Noble fir, and Grand fir are suitable for Hawai‘i production and to establish a protocol and methods to create top quality trees that can compete with the imported trees in our local markets. Douglas fir trials conducted by the Hawai‘i Agriculture Research Center (HARC) in 2002 showed that Douglas fir grew very well at Humu‘ula and at other high elevation sites on Hawai‘i Island and on Maui. We selected Noble fir and Grand fir because they are two other Christmas trees that are popular in Hawai‘i.  By demonstrating that Hawai‘i can grow Christmas trees locally, we can significantly enhance competitiveness of locally gown Christmas trees and provide a viable option for landowners who would like to grow trees on their land.    

We would like to bring to Hawai‘i the holiday tradition of getting the family together to visit a tree farm and picking out a Christmas tree. Our intent is that this demonstration project leads to hundreds of acres of Christmas trees on several islands. Just like buying local produce, purchasing local Christmas trees will support local growers.  The local trees will be free of invasive species, unlike Christmas trees imported from the mainland, which sometimes contain unwanted species such as hornets and slugs.  It is our intention to start selling the trees in five to six years.  Proceeds from tree sales will go back into the project for planting more trees, ongoing maintenance, and educational materials. 

According to Hawaii-grown Christmas Tree Market Potential, a study conducted by SMS Research and funded by the State of Hawaii Department of Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW), and the US Forest Service, “In 2012 it was estimated that the total number of Christmas Trees sold in Hawai‘i was in excess of 190,000. Of these, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture estimates that 183,000 Christmas trees (96%) were imported.  The remaining approximately 7,500 Christmas trees (4%) were grown and sold in Hawai‘i.”  According to the study, the majority of imported Christmas trees are Douglas Fir and Noble Fir, which are preferred by Hawai‘i residents because of their fragrance, color, and low price. Representatives from DLNR’s Department of Forestry and SMS Research discussed the results of the study and applied them to the potential future for a Christmas tree market in Hawai‘i. The study outlines the pros and cons associated with growing Christmas trees in Hawai‘i and identifies several ways in which a Christmas tree market may be realistic and desirable for both local farmers and consumers.

In addition to the economic and social benefits of planting trees, trees help combat greenhouse effect, clean the air, provide oxygen, and suppress invasive weeds. 

Project Funders
State of Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture
County of Hawai‘i Department of Research & Development
Department of Hawaiian Home Lands
Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association
Hawai‘i Forest Institute

Project Partners
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR)
Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS)
County of Hawai‘i Department of Research & Development
Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL)
DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW)
Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC)
Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association (HFIA)
Hawai‘i Forest Institute (HFI)
Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC)
Preserve Hawaii
USDA Forest Service (USFS)
Project Update (September 2013)
The two-acre site at Humu‘ula has been fenced by DHHL. Aileen Yeh, Hawai‘i Agriculture Research Center; Mike Robinson, DHHL; and J.B. Friday, CTAHR consulted plant specialists with HDOA, DOFAW and the Forest Service regarding importation of conifer seedlings to Hawai‘i.  Due to the possibility of pathogen introduction, and diseases caused by Phytophthora ramorum, HFIA decided it would be prudent to grow the Christmas trees from seeds instead of importing seedlings. HDOA indicated it was okay to bring in seeds because the disease caused by Phytophthora ramorum is not a seed borne disease.

Aileen Yeh ordered and received Douglas fir and Noble fir seeds from IFA Nurseries Inc. in Oregon. She is currently stratifying the seeds for sowing in October 2013 at DOFAW’s Kamuela nursery.  The seed passed inspection at HDOA in Hilo.  She ran water over the seeds for a long time, then dipped them in Zerotol, which is a fungicide algaecide similar to hydrogen peroxide.

Aileen ordered seed from four different provenances of Douglas fir, one provenance of Noble fir, and one provenance of Grand fir from Silva Seed Company in Washington.  She will cold stratify and sow the seed in 1.5 to 2 months. Although Silva did not think a Phytosanitary Certificate is required, Aileen has asked an inspector to inspect the seeds.  If the inspector determines a Phytosanitary Certificate is required, a certificate will be attained.  Aileen will also treat the seeds with Zerotol before stratifying.

See more updates at Give Back to the Forest Christmas Tree Demonstration Project

Project Collaborators
Aileen Yeh, HARC Horticulturalist (Co-chair)
Mike Robinson, DHHL Property Development Agent (Co-chair)
Carol Okada, HDOA Plant Quarantine Branch Manager
Christy Martin, CGAPS Public Information Officer
Chuck Chimera, HISC Weed Risk Assessment Specialist
Jacob Witcraft, DOFAW Nursery Forester
J.B. Friday, CTAHR Extension Forester
Kirsten Whatley, Preserve Hawaii Director
Leslie Iseke, HDOA Plant Import Specialist
Nick Dudley, HARC Forester and Forestry Team Leader
Peter Simmons, HFIA Director
Philip Cannon, USFS Regional Forest Pathologist
Sheri Mann, DOFAW Forestry Program Manager
Travis Idol, HFI President
Other Ressource Links
A Growing Regime for Container-Grown Douglas-Fir Seedlings
A Growing Regime for Containerized Grand Fir Seedlings

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