Saturday, February 18, 2012

Building and Tree

Up at the altitude of the Visitor Information Station at 9,200 feet (2,800 meters), the only trees growing are primarily hardy māmane trees (Sophora chrysophylla). In the spring they bloom with beautiful vibrant yellow flowers, and I can already see some early bloomers bursting into flower. I hope to get a good picture of them at the height of their flowering season this year, because it's really quite gorgeous. But what I really wanted to talk about today was one particular māmane sapling I came across on Thursday. This sapling was a bit unusual, because it was growing out of the side of a building.

One adventurous young māmane sapling.
To give you a sense of scale, that skirting through which the tree is growing goes up to about my shoulders. (This is Ranger Cabin C, by the way, if you're familiar with the area.) I took a peek inside, and discovered that the tree's base is a good two feet back from the base of the building, and not only that, but there were several other, smaller shoots growing up from the base as well. While I can understand how these neodendrons are getting their light, I'm left scratching my head as to where they're getting their water from. The side they're on – the south side – is the downhill (or ma kai – “ocean-wards”) side, so I can't imagine that the slight amounts of rain at this elevation is running under the building. I suppose the tree must simply have long roots now, but that still leaves me wondering how it fared as a seedling. Quite mysterious.

As to the fate of the tree (and building): while I'm sure that normally no one would think twice about lopping off the offending branches, māmane trees at this elevation are a protected species as they are the only food source of the endemic palila, a critically endangered species of Hawaiian honeycreeper now found exclusively on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea. So I don't know what the eventual fate of the tree (and building) will be.

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