Hamakua Marsh and Pu'u o Ehu Hillside

Healthy Climate Communities works in collaboration with Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) , local schools and other community groups to restore the watershed for Hamakua Marsh, called Pu'u o Ehu Hillside.  Since 2015 we planted thousands of native plants, including the endangered ko'oloa'ula (Abutilon menziesii) and the endangered mao hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei).  Caring for native plants is a tough job made possible by installing drip irrigation, using ground cover and the hands of many volunteers.

Hamakua Marsh and the adjacent Kawainui Marsh make up the largest remaining wetland habitat in the State.  It is a wildlife sanctuary owned by DLNR and home to four species of endemic and endangered waterbirds.

The area has a rich cultural and geographical history.  The area supported a large native Hawaiian population who managed the resource for both inland fishponds and wetland taro production.

Hamakua Marsh used to be a stream flowing from Kawainui Marsh to Kaelepulu Marsh (now Enchanted Lake) but the water flow has been diverted.  The Marsh now depends fully on rainfall on the hillside rising up from the Marsh, as well as run off from parts of Kailua town.

Hamakua Marsh provides a site to learn about and develop habits that enhance the planet's capacity to sequester and store carbon. Although wetlands account for only about 3% of the earths land surface, they store around one third of all soil carbon.  Protecting them keeps that carbon in the ground.  Additionally, the native trees and shrubs planted will sequester and store carbon over time.

Native Wetland Birds

Nathan Yuen
Nathan Yuen

'ALAE 'ULA (Hawaiian moorhen) is called "burnt forehead" because its red frontal shield is said to have been burnt when it brought fire to the Hawaiian people. Found only on Oahu and Kauai, this bird is the most rare.  It nests in the dense floating vegetation.

Nathan Yuen
Nathan Yuen

'ALAE KE'O KE'O (Hawaiian coot) is secretive and builds floating nests that are anchored to stationary vegetation. These birds have big feet with flaps that extend on either side of their toes to help them swim.  They like open water and dive for submerged plants.

Nathan Yuen
Nathan Yuen

AE'O (Hawaiian Stilt) is called "one standing high" due to the bird's long pink legs.  It feeds and nests in the shallow water and mudflats.

Nathan Yuen
Nathan Yuen

KOLOA MAOLI (Hawaiian duck) were eliminated everywhere except the Big Island.  326 captive ducks were reintroduced to Oahu from 1958 - 1982.  All koloa have white and brown mottled coloring, similar to female mallards.  The male mallards mate with the female koloa, creating a population of hybrids.  They nest in dense vegetation by the water.

Nathan Yuen
Nathan Yuen

'AUKU'  (Black-Crowned Night Heron) is indigenous, meaning it is also found in other parts of the world.  Unlike the other subspecies which are active mostly at night, the subspecies in Hawaii hunts during the day.  It is not endangered.

PREDATORS  Rats, mongoose and cattle egrets are invasive species which live at the marsh and prey on eggs and chicks of endemic species. Traps can be seen around the marsh to control some of these populations.

Native Plants and Trees at Project Site


'A'ALI'I  (Dodonoaea viscosa) means "standing in the wind" and they are hardy lowland shrubs that need little water.  The Hawaiians used the hard, heavy wood for construction and for bait hooks.  The leaves were used in medicine for skin problems.  The seeds were used for dye and for lei.


'AHU'AWA  (Cyperus javanicus) is an indigenous sedge also found in the tropics of Asia and Africa.  Waterbirds use it to build nests. Hawaiians used the pounded stems to strain pulp from the drink made of the Awa plant root.


'AKIOHALA  (Hibiscus Furcellatus) is an indigenous hibiscus that has more bristle hairs on the stalks in Hawaii than elsewhere.  It is found around marshes.  It has pink and purple flowers.  The Hawaiians used the buds as a laxative for infants and to strengthen children.


ALAHE'E (Psydrax odorata) means wandering fragrance. In full bloom, the plant is completely covered in fragrant flower clusters. Digging tools and Adze handles were made from the hard wood of this plant while a black dye was also made from the leaves. In addition the flowers and fruit are used in lei.


ANAPANAPA (Colubrina asiatica) is a sprawling shrub with shiny leaves. In Hawaiian, anapa means to shine and is also the name of a seaweed eaten by honu. It is drought tolerant and can grow over other plants. Crushed leaves create lather and were mixed with water by the Hawaiians to use as soap.


AWEOWEO (Chenopodium oahuense) is the name of both this shrub and of a red fish - the hawaiian creation chant said that when someting was created in the ocean it was also created on land or in the air or both (Kumulipo).  Sea birds hide in it and use dead branches for their nests.  Hawaiians used the wood to make shark hooks and when food was scarce they cooked and ate the fleshy leaves like spinach.


EWA HINAHINA (Achyranthes) is the descriptive name given to this silver plant that used to cover much of the dry Ewa plains because the true Hawaiian name is unknown.  It  looks silver because of small hairs that reflect the sunlight.  It grows up to 6' tall and has fruit / flower spikes.


HALA  (Pandanus tectorius) differs by gender with the female trees having pineapple-shaped fruit, and the male hala having fragrant floral displays.  It grows in poor, salty or sandy soils.  Hawaiians planted hala around homes as they used it intensively.  Hala leaves (lau hala) were used to weave sails, baskets, hats, sandals and furnishings.   The leaves around the male flowers (hinano) were used to weave clothes.  Hinano was also used as a love potion by women.  Different parts of the plant were used for lei and for medicine.


ILIMA (Sida fallax)  The official flower of O’ahu.  Lei from this flower could only be worn by royalty since it looked like the yellow feather lei only used by royalty.  The flower is also used for medicine.


KAMANI (Calophyllum inophyllum) is a “canoe” plant brought by Polynesian settlers. It grows to be 60 feet tall and has small flowers that smell like orange blossoms. The Hawaiians used the flowers to scent Kapa and make lei. The wood was used for canoes, homes and for food bowls and trays since it had no bad taste or odor.


KOAI'A (Acacia koaia) is koa's smaller cousin. It once grew in the lowlands of most of the main Hawaiian Islands, but is now rare. The dense reddish wood is harder than koa and was used by early Hawaiians for spears, fish lures, shark hooks with bone points, bait sticks in fishing, and in house construction.


KOKI'O 'ULA  (Hibiscus kokoio) is one of five species of endemic hibiscus.  It was prized for its beautiful red flower.


KOLOMANA  (Senna gaudichaudii) is a tall shrub with abundant small flowers.  It had no major uses by Hawaiians.


KO'OLOA 'ULA  (Abutilon menzeisii) Assumed extinct on O’ahu till plants were found in an abandoned sugar cane field planned for use as a road in 2003.  DLNR removed the plants before the road was built and established new populations.  Planted by our project since 2018.



LONOMEA (Sapindus Oahuensis) The soapberry tree is a large tree with oval fruits that resemble dates and smell like figs or raisins, but are not edible. The crushed fruit makes a soapy lather, and has been used as a soap. The hard black seeds were used for medicine and to make permanent lei. This tree was found on Oahu and Kauai and was called Aulu or Kaulu on Oahu.


LOULU (Pritchardia) is the genus of palm native to Hawaii and has 19 endemic species spread throughout the islands.  Some are endangered due in part to rats eating their seeds.  The Oahu pritchardia martii reaches about 30 feet and its leaves are silvery underneath.


MA'O (Gossypium tomentosum) The native Hawaiian cotton shares its name with a Hawaiian thrush and both get their names from the word for the color green.  Ma'o was used for a light green dye as well as a red-brown dye.  The fiber was used for stuffing pillows, while flowers were used for lei, food and medicine.  Maʻo helped save the modern cotton industry.   Crossing Ma'o with other cotton strains created hybrids  that are less attractive to insect pests that destroy cotton crops.


MA'O HAU HELE  (Hibiscus brackenridgei)  This endangered hibiscus plant is the Hawai’i State flower.  The Hawaiian name means “green travelling hibiscus.”  The top of the plant gets heavy and leans over or falls over.  Where the branches touch the ground, it sprouts new roots. If the old part of the plant dies, the plant will have “travelled” a few feet and can do it over and over again.




MILO  (Thespesia populnea) is a fast-growing tree brought by the polynesians on their canoes.  Milos shaded the home of King Kamehameha I in Waikiki. The beautiful wood was used by Hawaiians for utensils, furniture, and jewelry.


NAUPAKA  (Scaevola taccada) flowers appear to be only half flowers and inspired the legend about lovers separated forever, one to the beach and the other to the mountains.  The fruit and flowers were used in lei.  The fruit is used to keep dive masks from fogging.


NAIO (myoperum sandwicense ) can grow into a shrub or a tree.  It has oily wood which was made into torches for night fishing.  When burned it smells like sandalwood and was used by the Chinese for incense.


NENELEAU /NELEAU (Rhus sandwicences) is a small trees whose leaves start as orange, pink and red before turning green. The wood was used to make lomi lomi massage sticks. New trees sprout from the roots.


PILI  (Heteropogon contortus) is a grass used by early Hawaiians  for thatch.  They enjoyed the pleasant odor from its leaves.  The soil, roots, and flowering spikes were trimmed from a bunch then they were tied to the roof frame in rows with stems up.  The leaves were also used to stuff mattresses, pad floors, and as a tinder.


POHINAHINA  (Vitex rotundifolia) is a sprawling shrub with clusters of purple flowers that sit on top of rounded silver-green leaves.  The edible leaves were used by Hawaiians to relieve illnesses. The fragrant foliage as well as the flowers were used in lei making. This plant is native to Hawaii as well as other parts of the Pacific.


UKI'UKI  (Sida fallax) The dark berries of this sedge were used to make green and blue dye for kapa cloth. The Hawaiian’s used more plants to make more different colors than other parts of the Pacific.

Ulei 520x289

'ULEI  (Osteomeles anthyllidifolia) starts as a sprawling shrub with flexible, prostrate branches but can eventually develop into a large shrub up to 10 feet tall.  The Hawaiians ate the fruit and made lei from the flowers.  The branches were used for spears, digging sticks and looped to make round fish nets.


WILIWILI  (Erythrina sandwicensis) has lightweight wood that was prized for making surfboards and the ama of canoes.  The wood was used for boxes for fishing gear because it would float if it fell in the water.


Invasive Weeds to be Pulled

Project participants:  Please keep an eye out for these weeds and pull them (with roots) before they get established.

Haole koa
Haole koa
African tulip
African tulip
California grass
California grass
Morning glory vine
Morning glory vine

History of the Healthy Climate Communities Project

In April 2015, Lisa Marten convinced eight friends to join her in planting and adopting a tree at the marsh to field test an automated watering system under development by Camilo Mora, UH Geography.  DLNR biologist Katie Doyle cleared an area, and provided plants and expertise.  Members went ahead and provided care for all of the trees when they went to care for their own - it was easy.  Lisa dropped the concept of adopting individual trees and instead created a schedule for the group to take turns caring for all the trees.  With water at the site, drip irrigation was installed and became part of the learning experience for the students.  Thus, the community forestry program was born.