by Charlene Burgi
While on vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, my goal was to experience the biodiversity that I have heard so much about over the years. This large variety of species is thanks in part to a variety of growing conditions, from record rainfalls on one side of the island to drought conditions on the other.
| Along Saddle Road
Shortly after arriving, I headed north over what is known as Saddle Road, which bisects the island as it runs between the two volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It didn’t take long for the landscape to change as the elevation shifted from sea level to mountain. The lush tropical surroundings of Hilo gave way to rolling grassy hillsides mostly barren of trees. The snow-capped ranges of Mauna Loa reminded me of Lassen and the cold temperatures that I had left behind.
As the road spurred me on, I found myself on a roller coaster highway leading to Waimea, home to the headquarters for the Parker Ranch (the largest ranch in Hawaii). The terrain surrounding had me wondering if I were in the beautiful countryside of Point Reyes. Cattle and horses were belly deep in grassy fields. The town sported feed stores to support this country way of life. The sun was shining on this jewel of a town that felt so much like Marin of old.
As I left Waimea, my journey took me south along the coastline of Highway 11. A side road at Laupahoehoe found me twisting and turning through a heavily vegetated area that I was told not to miss. I could see why the people of this tiny village would want to live here. Green grass grew about, tropical flowers colored the surrounding landscape, and trees stood proud as the thunderous surf pounded behind them. It was a vision to behold. I thought about our own coastline in Marin by the headlands and of the indigenous plants growing there. There were many similarities, and yet also many differences.
My travels further south initiated windshield wipers that were unable to move fast enough to clear the downpour. On this wet side of the island, multiple bridges cross huge watersheds where the runoff from the rains plummet down the mountainsides and out to sea. Lush growth appeared all around me.
As I traversed on, I was surprised to see groves of eucalyptus flanking both sides of the road. The perfectly planted rows indicated harvesting was in mind for these trees that are so well known in Marin. It seems the trees in Hawaii are planted, logged and shipped to Asia. Again my thoughts traveled back to Marin, recalling a conversation I had with an arborist in Bolinas who attempted to use eucalyptus for building park benches, but found the wood wanting to twist as it aged.
My travels throughout the week revealed the twists and turns that best describe Hawaii, from lush rainforests, to the barren landscapes of the active lava flows, to green and black sand beaches where green turtles basked in the warm sun. It was amazing how hard the rains fell in Hilo, yet it was if an invisible wall separated the weather and vegetation from the east to the west side of the island. And yet again, I thought of our weather in Marin compared to foggy and cool San Francisco, and the often abrupt change encountered as you cross the Golden Gate Bridge from one to the other.
Biodiversity is fascinating. On a much smaller scale, we find the same principle at work in our gardens, which often have many different microclimates. Do you have a wet side of the garden that would support lush vegetation, or a dry sunny area that would better suit low-water-use natives? Astute gardeners know the importance of working with the right plant in the right place, just as nature has done on this island.
Aloha and have a great weekend.