Friday, August 21, 2009

Ginger, Nice but Naughty

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Such a pity something so nice is actually a pest. Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) is in full bloom now, rioting all over Volcano Village, including my yard. Its heavy perfume is an evening serenade, a fragrant backdrop for romantic stargazing on clear summer nights. Oddly enough, my cat might be allergic to it – he’s developed a rapid, machinegun-like kitty sneeze. Personally, I think the scent has a nicotine-like undertone and is inferior to white and yellow ginger. That, and K-ginger's invasiveness, permits me to charge full force with my machete. Snicker-snack!

The first Hawaiians brought "shampoo" ginger, which they called awapuhi (Zingiber zerumbet), to these islands. However, so-called “Kahili” ginger, like other gingers that have naturalized here, was brought to Hawai'i as an ornamental in the early 1900s, and since then it has created enormous environmental problems in the native rainforest, crowding out other plants. Heard of the invasive Himalayan raspberry? This is Himalayan ginger – no kidding. “Kahili” is a misnomer; it’s not Hawaiian at all. Sad to say, it’s just someone’s clever way of marketing a nursery product by co-opting a Hawaiian identity. Again.

Himalayan ginger is well-adapted to rainforest environments. It is shade-tolerant, is tall and has broad leaves to block sunlight from reaching competing plants, and it spreads by rhizomes and seeds, which makes it even more successful. Birds are attracted to the bright red seeds and spread them around to other areas.

Sure, you can keep hacking it back, but it’ll only laugh at you. At the nature trail of the Volcano Art Center’s Niaulani campus, volunteers spend every third Sunday of the month digging out the rhizomes in order to preserve the rare native species of the old-growth forest there. A good ecotourist activity if you’re interested, by the way. Click here for more info.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park uses another method: They cut the plants down to the rhizomes, and then they spray an effective (but expensive) chemical pesticide until the point of runoff. (I won’t say which pesticide it is – sorry. But you can ask them yourself, if you’re really desperate and have a big problem.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Recycling on Your Own Turf

I'm away from Hawai'i now, spending some time in the San Francisco Bay Area on family business. Every time I travel to the city I'm amazed at how rural practices can get wildly out of hand in urban contexts. Take the concept of recycling, for example. "I'm a big-time recycler!" My city pals are fond of saying this. What it really means is that every week their curbside pickup consists of 3 colored bins: a blue one for recyclables, which they do not sort ("they have people who do that," they explain); green for "compostables," and gray for plain old "garbage," whatever that means. And, among my pals, there's competition for bragging rights to keeping the most out of the gray bin. Does this deter them from buying overpackaged items? Not necessarily -- because, hey, every week almost everything is "recyclable," right?

Apparently, in the city, recycling isn't necessarily connected with composting at home. Take for example the condo owner who lives next to my friend in the city of Alameda. That's his green bin in the photo above. He decided he no longer wanted a postage-stamp lawn and wanted a concrete patio instead - the way it was originally - so he ripped it out the grass and disposed of it just as it had come to him, sod piece by sod piece. Well, I guess he thought it is compostable, and so it made some kind of logical sense to him to stuff it in the "green" bin. But to me it somehow seemed a bit bizarre to see turf rolled up and stuffed in a garbage bin like a bit of old carpet, even though it would go to the green waste facility. Big time recyclers? Not quite, I don't think so, at least not yet.

Which makes me wonder: When it comes to recycling, how are we doing on our own turf, Hawai'i?