Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death

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ʻŌhiʻa Lehua flowers

Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) is a fungal disease that is rapidly killing forests of ʻōhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha)—an ecologically important native tree species within the Hawaiian Islands that has provided a plethora of habitats for endangered birds and other species.[1] Initially reported by landowners in Puna in 2010, ROD spread quickly across tens of thousands of acres of ʻŌhiʻa trees on the Hawaiian Islands.[2][3] To date, hundreds of thousands of these trees have died from this fungal disease alone.[4] Previously healthy Ōhiʻa trees have been observed to die within a few days to weeks, which is why the disease is known as "Rapid Ōhiʻa Death".[5]

In April 2018, the cause of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death was identified as two fungal species within the genus Ceratocystis which were previously unknown to science: Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia.[6] By May 2018, infected ʻōhiʻa trees were found on the island of Kauai, prompting requests that members of the public limit transportation of ʻōhiʻa products within the island.[7] The less aggressive of the two fungus species, C. huliohia, has been confirmed on Hawaii Island, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu.[4] According to experts, the fungus is likely to have been carried between the islands by tourists, on their shoes or hiking boots, but it can also be transmitted by dirty tools, animals or via the wind.[8] Currently, there is no cure for the infected ʻŌhiʻa trees; ways to prevent the disease from spreading to other trees is through avoiding transmitting any parts of the tree to other ʻŌhiʻa's, removing soil debris from shoes, other gear, and tools.[9] In order to fight back against the spread of this disease and to educate citizens on what the disease is, scientists and government officials have created a "ROD Strategic Response Plan," which outlines topics such as what the disease is, how it spreads, and how to prevent it from spreading.[10]

In 2019 a documentary titled Saving ʻŌhiʻ’a: Hawaii's Sacred Tree, produced by Club Sullivan and funded by a grant from the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, was released, providing an in-depth look into the cultural and ecological importance of ʻōhiʻa and the environmental and cultural impacts of the ROD epidemic. The film was nominated for six Emmys and received three awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Pacific Southwest Chapter.[11]

Types of ROD Pathogens[edit]

Boring Beetle Tunnels in Ohia Tree Stump. Researchers are studying if Boring Beetle's excrement is a pathway for ROD pathogen's to spread to the Ohia Tree's.[12]

Ceratocystis Huliohia: This fungal pathogen was confirmed by plant pathologist Lisa Keith and her lab team in 2014.[13] Keith and her team asked local Hawaiians what they wished to coin the disease as, and they decided to call it Ceratocystis Huliohia (changes the natural state of ʻŌhiʻa).[13] This fungal pathogen has been found to create a canker disease beneath the bark that slowly spreads throughout the water-conducting tissue within the tree, leading to wilting leaves, dried out branches and ultimately, the death of the tree.[13] In both ROD fungal pathogens, signs of the disease have been shown in the outer ring of the cut trunk.[14] Additionally, scientists have found through systematic dissections of the tree that the darkest portion of the bark is where the fungus has entered, and that predominantly the fungus has been found that the disease grows quicker up the stem of the tree than down it.[14] Researchers have also been studying how the excrement created by Boring Beetle's within the ʻŌhiʻa tree's can be used as a pathway for both pathogens of ROD.[12]

Ceratocystis Lukuohia: This fungal pathogen is named the destroyer of ʻōhiʻa because unlike Ceratocystis Huliohia, this pathogen spreads quickly throughout the tree and causes a systemic wilt.[14] This pathogen also chokes the tissue in the tree, which disallows it from acquiring water, but, the pathogen spreads much quicker than the Huliohia pathogen and leads to the entire crown of the tree wilting and eventually dying.[14]

Policies and Plans[edit]

Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Strategic Response Plan: In 2020, the Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Working Group released a "Strategic Response Plan for 2020-2024" laying out management, research, and public engagement priorities to contain the disease and calling for $4 million a year in funding over the next five years to "continue progress toward understanding and addressing the fungal disease that has seriously impacted Hawaii's native forests."[15] Within the response plan, researchers have developed a rapid molecular test that identifies the presence of the Ceratocystis pathogens within ʻŌhiʻa trees.[15]  Researchers within the response plan have also developed effective sanitation techniques, such as, applying heat and vacuum-steam to infected materials, which have been shown to treat the pathogens.[15] The Strategic Response Plan has also succeeded in cooperating with the Hawai'i Seed Bank Partnership to form an advocacy coalition that has succeeded in training and educated hundreds of volunteers statewide on how to collect ʻŌhiʻa seeds to further conservation of the species.[15]


  1. ^ Keith, L. M.; Hughes, R. F.; Sugiyama, L. S.; Heller, W. P.; Bushe, B. C.; Friday, J. B. (2015). "First Report of Ceratocystis Wilt on ˋŌhiˋa (Metrosideros polymorpha)". Plant Disease. 99 (9): 1276. doi:10.1094/PDIS-12-14-1293-PDN.
  2. ^ Nemo, Leslie (2018-09-20). "Hawaii's "rapid ohia death" disease is killing the forest canopy, and there's no end in sight". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 2019-08-05. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  3. ^ "Rapid 'Ōhi'a Death: The Disease That's Killing Native Hawaiian Trees". NPR.org. Archived from the original on 2020-01-30. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  4. ^ a b "Questions and Answers on ROD". cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu. Archived from the original on 2019-11-22. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  5. ^ "Rapid 'Ohi'a Death HOME". cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  6. ^ "Two new species of fungi that kill ohia trees get Hawaiian names | University of Hawaiʻi System News". University of Hawaiʻi System News. 2018-04-17. Retrieved 2020-02-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Bernardo, Rosemarie (2018-05-11). "Ohia fungus found on Kauai". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Archived from the original on 2018-05-15. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
  8. ^ "Sacred Hawaiian tree is under threat as tourists are asked to help save it". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2019-08-15. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  9. ^ "Questions and Answers on ROD". cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  10. ^ Hauff, Rob (2020-01-14). "Rapid Ohia Death Strategic Response Plan". Retrieved 2021-11-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "'Saving ʻŌhiʻa' documentary brings home 3 Emmys". University of Hawaiʻi System News. 2019-06-25. Retrieved 2020-02-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ a b "Inside of an ohia log with tunnels created by wood boring beetles". www.usgs.gov. Retrieved 2021-11-11.
  13. ^ a b c "Two new species of fungi that kill ohia trees get Hawaiian names". University of Hawaiʻi System News. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  14. ^ a b c d "Rapid 'Ohi'a Death: Overview". cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  15. ^ a b c d "Plan to tackle Rapid Ohia Death". The Garden Island. 2020-01-14. Archived from the original on 2020-01-15. Retrieved 2020-02-06.

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