To have a true native Hawaiian butterfly garden, you'd have to plant a Hawaiian forest, or live near one. There are only two native butterflies, the Kamehameha Butterfly (Vanessa tameamea) and the Koa Butterfly (Udara blackburni). Both of these butterflies, adults and their larvae, feed on native plant species. At lower elevations especially, predators, parasites, and human activities impacting habitats have contributed to diminishing native Hawaiian butterfly populations, or even eliminating them.
Kipuka Puaulu is one of the few places easily accessible to the public where you still stand a chance at seeing living native butterflies. At Kipuka Puaulu, also known as Bird Park in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, you'll find native plants typical of the mesic forest growing in old, deep ash soil on Mauna Loa: koa, manele, 'ohi'a lehua, papala kepau, palapalai and other ferns, 'ala 'ala wai nui, and of course, mamaki. These natives, with the exceptions of perhaps koa and manele, are fairly easy to grow in your backyard with adequate water, rich soil with good drainage, and half the amount of fertilizer you normally use with non-natives. Although at Kipuka Puaulu was grazed by cattle, pigs and goats into the 1950s, today it is an example of successful resource management, a healthy forest that has been protected and replanted.
VIDEO: A walk through Kipuka Puaulu and a reading of excerpts from Pulelehua and Mamaki, at the mamaki grove under the koa trees, with yours truly.
Pulelehua and Mamaki is featured in this week's Big Island Weekly. To read the article, click here.