As a result of collaboration between the Big Island Invasive Species Committee and Walmart, the retailer will phase out the sale of two plants from garden centers in Hawaii stores. Walmart joins a growing list of local nurseries that are working to “Plant Pono” and discontinue the sale of invasive plants.
The two plants in question, night-blooming jasmine and medinilla, have been identified as being in the early stages of invasion into natural areas on the Big Island and other places around the state. Both plants model the unfortunate pattern of ornamental plants escaping cultivation to become a problem for native forests. Both score high on the Hawaii-Pacific Weed Risk Assessment, a tool used by specialists as a “background check” for plants. A score of 6 indicates a high risk that the plant will become invasive in Hawaii; night blooming jasmine, a popular, sweet smelling landscape plant, scores a staggering 18. Medinilla, a shrub with dark leaves and a showy pink or purple bloom, is closely related to the miconia, clidemia, and tibouchina plants which plague landscapes across the islands. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has declared them two of Hawaii’s “Most Invasive Horticultural Plants” for the tendency to spread into wild areas and form thickets that smother surrounding vegetation.
In February, representatives from BIISC’s Plant Pono nursery endorsement program reached out to Walmart officials to share information about the invasiveness of these two plants and request a voluntary discontinuation of sales. Federal regulations prevent foreign imports of a number of plant species into the U.S., but those regulations are not Hawaii-specific and don’t take into account the increased vulnerability of islands to invasive species. For plants coming from the mainland, Hawaii state law restricts the movement of just a handful of plant types, and only members of the palm family are outright banned. Many retailers and consumers are unaware of the relatively relaxed regulations for importing plants in Hawaii, and assume that if a plant is for sale, it must be safe.
“Without the voluntary cooperation of nurseries, we simply would have no other way to get these plants out of the supply chain,” says Molly Murphy, early detection specialist at BIISC. The two plants are commonly available and popular at nurseries across the state due to the ease with which they can be grown. Walmart buyers consulted officials with the state Department of Agriculture before making their decision. HDOA officials were supportive of the voluntary removal, noting that adding a plant to the restricted list can take years – during which time the plants may be spread to hundreds or even thousands of locations. Without a regulatory basis for restricting the sale, officials are forced to watch well-meaning buyers and sellers spread invasive plants around the island, much as unsuspecting residents did 100 years ago to leave a legacy of Himalayan ginger and Koster’s curse.
The Plant Pono program, a joint effort of the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS) administered on the Big Island by BIISC, seeks to empower consumers who want to make responsible landscaping purchases. Nurseries displaying the Plant Pono endorsement logo have agreed to not import or sell any plants which score as invasive, and to use best management practices (BMPs) developed by local researchers to control coqui and little fire ant. A complete list of Plant Pono endorsed nurseries is available here.