Friday, September 26, 2008

Sandalwood Guy

You might forget his name, but you won’t forget his mission. “Every plant makes a difference in absorbing carbon,” says Mark Hanson, who once went to Washington, D. C., to give 5,000 oak trees and 110 cherry trees to every member of U.S. Congress.

Mark is perhaps better known locally as Hawai'i’s ambassador and passionate advocate of native Hawaiian sandalwood. Some might say he’s blessed with an obsession -- great for our native ecosystems when you consider the tree hasn’t had much help since the sandalwood trade nearly wiped it out completely in the 1800s. Native Hawaiian sandalwood isn’t endangered; there are still some stands hidden in mauka forests, but in the inhabited lowlands native sandalwood is a rarity, and native plant enthusiasts consider it quite a triumph when they’re able to grow a tree to a substantial size.

The problem, says Mark, is that native sandalwood is adapted to native soil, which doesn’t really exist in the lowlands any more due to human activities such as agriculture and building construction. Thus, to grow sandalwood successfully you have to baby it a little, as though it were an exotic fruit tree, he says. Pour on the TLC and you too may one day have boasting rights to your very own Hawaiian sandalwood tree in your backyard.

Mark was selling sandalwood seedlings at the Maku'u Farmers Market last week. With proper care these seedlings would be ready for planting in ground in another 4 months.

Mark’s down-and-dirty tips for planting out Hawaiian sandalwood seedlings:

  • Keep the pH at 6.5 to 7.
  • Plant it with chelated iron – just a pinch of Growganic 40% or Ironite.
  • Keep grasses away, which tend to choke out sandalwood seedlings.
  • Add pH balanced topsoil to the planting hole.
  • Cut back on cinder but make sure soil drains well and contain compost.
  • Sandalwood is sort of a parasitic plant, so plant it with "helper" plants. A'e a'e, a native groundcover, is an excellent companion. Also good is 'ala 'ala wai nui, and native shrubs such as 'akia, a'ali'i and aweoweo. Similar non-native plants work just as well, too.

Mark’s latest exciting project is an “Ecodome” made from cement, volcanic cinder, blue rock, and barbed wire. It’s the first green permitted residence ever in Hawai'i County. From the looks of it, maybe Luke Skywalker really does live in Puna. Cool.

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