An invasive insect infects a local tree in Waikiki

WAIKIKI, Hawaii (KHON2) – A sick tree in Waikiki caught the attention of a KHON2 viewer, who sent in a report to find out more.

The native hala tree near Fort Derussy is suffering from an invasive insect known as the hala scale.

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According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the halo scale was first discovered in 1995 on trees in Hana, Maui. Since then, HDOA said, some native trees on Oahu and Molokai have been infected.

Dr. Mark Wright of UH Manoa University – Professor of Entomology – explained its effect on KHON2.

“They live where they are on a sheet of paper, they put their mouthparts into the paper, and they suck up fluid,” Dr. Wright said. “Their mouth parts are inserted into the plant, it’s like a little straw, like a hypodermic syringe, I think, that removes nutrients from plants and drains energy, and eventually causes the leaves to die.” Wright said.

Hala scale insects – usually seen as a black dot with a white waxy ring – have not been discovered on the island of Hawaii. The Big Island Invasive Species Commission said the creatures are definitely on its radar.

“You look at the hula scale, it’s very small, something that was very easy to sneak up on and get here, and that’s a really common problem that we continue to deal with as every year there are more and more things that get here, unfortunately,” said Franny Brewer, Acting Director Program at BISC.

Experts said people should contact HDOA officials if they think they see a tree with a halo scale and never touch it themselves.

“It’s very easy to propagate if you’re moving parts of the plant at all,” Wright said. “So if the leaves are moved, they’re also on the fruits, then if the fruits are moved, they’re going to move that way.”

Hala trees are indigenous to Hawaii and are found mostly in coastal areas. Leaves were traditionally used – and still are – for weaving baskets, ropes, and more.

“So this Hawaiian tradition has been passed down through many generations, so anything that could pose a threat to the existence of the tree is a real threat to that cultural practice,” Brewer said.

click here To report invasive species in Hawaii to the Department of Agriculture through the 643pest hotline, which allows the public to upload a photo and location of potential infestation.

“And anybody can identify that, and if there’s something that needs to be answered, the experts will come in and respond to it,” Brewer said.

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KHON2 contacted HDOA about the herpes tree in Waikiki and reported the infection.

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