‘Āina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration Project

Volunteer Amy Elizabeth waters seedlings at March 3, 2017 planting.

The ‘Āina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration Project involves importing and propagating seed and outplanting Douglas fir trees on  Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) land in Humu‘ula/Pi‘ihonua on Hawai‘i Island.  We originally propagated and outplanted Grand fir and Noble fir, however only the Douglas fir grew well in the nursery and in the field.  We selected these species because they were determined to be non-invasive and deemed desirable for Christmas trees.

2016 and 2016 Workshops and PR
October 21, 2016  Specialty Farmer Business Training Workshop
March 18, 2016 Planting Workshop
March 3, 2017 Planting
HFIA Summer 2016 E-news Article
HFIA Winter 2017 E-news-‘Āina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration Project Article
Christmas Tree Planting Media Release 2-16-17
Christmas Tree Project Fact Sheet 2017

Our original plan was to import seedlings, however we discovered that imported seedlings may carry Phytophthora ramorum (sudden oak death), a soil-borne disease.  Therefore we elected to import the seed and propagate them here in Hawai‘i. Our goal is to demonstrate that top quality Christmas trees can be successfully grown here in Hawai‘i.

Seeds are being imported from the mainland and propagated by Aileen Yeh (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center) at the Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW) State Nursery in Kamuela, in collaboration with DOFAW Nursery Forester Jacob Witcraft. Outplanting of the seedlings will be done by volunteers.   This web page has been created to document the project and to provide public education about the benefits of planting trees and protecting and perpetuating Hawaii’s forests.

According to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, shipments of Christmas trees from the Pacific Northwest have been found to be widely infested with slugs and other pests that are not found in Hawai‘i. The concern about the heavy infestation of slugs is that they may carry the parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, or rat lungworm, which causes a disease that affects the human brain and spinal cord.  Once an invasive pest or disease becomes established in Hawai‘i, it may have a devastating impact on Hawai‘i agriculture by causing damage to crops and is often costly for the state and growers to control.  These invasive species can be very harmful to Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems. Providing the Hawaiian Islands with locally grown Christmas trees will support import replacement and promote the “Buying Local, It Matters” message.

Our intent is to show that Douglas fir, Noble fir, and Grand fir are suitable for Hawai‘i production and to establish a protocol and methods to create top quality trees that can compete with the imported trees in our local markets. Douglas fir trials conducted by the Hawai‘i Agriculture Research Center (HARC) in 2002 showed that Douglas fir grew very well at Humu‘ula and at other high elevation sites on Hawai‘i Island and on Maui. We selected Noble fir and Grand fir because they are two other Christmas trees that are popular in Hawai‘i.  By demonstrating that Hawai‘i can grow Christmas trees locally, we can significantly enhance competitiveness of locally gown Christmas trees and provide a viable option for landowners who would like to grow trees on their land.

We would like to bring to Hawai‘i the holiday tradition of getting the family together to visit a tree farm and picking out a Christmas tree. Our intent is that this demonstration project leads to hundreds of acres of Christmas trees on several islands. Just like buying local produce, purchasing local Christmas trees will support local growers.  The local trees will be free of invasive species, unlike Christmas trees imported from the mainland, which sometimes contain unwanted species such as hornets and slugs.  It is our intention to start selling the trees in five to six years.  Proceeds from tree sales will go back into the project for planting more trees, ongoing maintenance, and educational activities and materials.

According to Hawaii-grown Christmas Tree Market Potential, a study conducted by SMS Research and funded by the State of Hawaii Department of Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW), and the US Forest Service, “In 2012 it was estimated that the total number of Christmas Trees sold in Hawai‘i was in excess of 190,000. Of these, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture estimates that 183,000 Christmas trees (96%) were imported.  The remaining approximately 7,500 Christmas trees (4%) were grown and sold in Hawai‘i.”  According to the study, the majority of imported Christmas trees are Douglas Fir and Noble Fir, which are preferred by Hawai‘i residents because of their fragrance, color, and low price. Representatives from DLNR’s Department of Forestry and SMS Research discussed the results of the study and applied them to the potential future for a Christmas tree market in Hawai‘i. The study outlines the pros and cons associated with growing Christmas trees in Hawai‘i and identifies several ways in which a Christmas tree market may be realistic and desirable for both local farmers and consumers.

In addition to the economic and social benefits of planting trees, trees help combat greenhouse effect, clean the air, provide oxygen, and suppress invasive weeds.

Pacific Northwest Weed Management Handbook, March 2016

Project Funders
USDA Department of Agriculture Logo

Department of Hawaiian Home Lands
State of Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture
County of Hawai‘i Department of Research & Development
US Department of Agriculture
Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association
Hawai‘i Forest Institute

Project Partners
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR)
Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS)
DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW)
Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC)
Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC)
Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance
USDA Forest Service (USFS)

Project Summary
A planting site was fenced and prepared for planting by DHHL.  Aileen Yeh, Hawai‘i Agriculture Research Center; Mike Robinson, DHHL; and J.B. Friday, CTAHR consulted plant specialists with HDOA, DOFAW and the Forest Service regarding importation of conifer seedlings to Hawai‘i.  Due to the possibility of pathogen introduction, and diseases caused by Phytophthora ramorum, HFIA decided it would be prudent to grow the Christmas trees from seeds instead of importing seedlings.  HDOA indicated it was okay to bring in seeds because the disease caused by Phytophthora ramorum is not a seed borne disease.

Aileen Yeh ordered and received Douglas fir, Grand fir, and Noble fir seeds from nurseries in Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver.  She stratified the seeds for sowing at DOFAW’s Kamuela nursery, with assistance from DOFAW nursery staff.   She ran water over the seeds, then dipped them in Zerotol, which is a fungicide algaecide similar to hydrogen peroxide.  Some seeds were from four different provenances of Douglas fir, one provenance of Noble fir, and one provenance of Grand fir from Silva Seed Company in Washington.   Although Silva did not think a Phytosanitary Certificate was required, Aileen asked an inspector to inspect the seeds to make sure.  It was determined that a Phytosanitary Certificate was not required.  The seed passed inspection at HDOA in Hilo.

Volunteer planting workshops were on August 27, 2014, December 4, 2014, March 18, 2016, and March 3,2017.  A Specialty Farmer Business Training Workshop was held on October 21, 2016.  Forest Solutions Inc. is maintaining the site.

After evaluating the potential issues of this phase of the project, we expect we can improve on the second phase as follows:

  • The next round of planting will include better grass control up front to minimize potential damage from follow-up herbicide.
  • The second site will not need pH adjustments so the potential for burn from liming will not occur.
  • Taller seedlings will help so when fertilizing occurs there will be less chance of over fertilizing and getting fertilizer directly on trees.
  • Planting will occur in the Spring to compare survival rates with the Summer and Fall planting.
  • We will purchase seed from the seed sources that had the highest survival rates.

Project Update

HFIA was awarded a third Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) Sponsorship-Product Promotion grant for 2016/2017.  Aileen Yeh imported and propagated additional Douglas fir seed and worked with DOFAW State Nursery staff to care for the seedlings in the nursery.   On March 3, 2017, 23 volunteers planted 600 Douglas Fir seedlings, see photos here.  See photos and links to video recordings of the March 18, 2016 presentations here.  Forest Solutions Inc. has been maintaining the seedlings in the field.  A second Specialty Farmer Business Training Workshop will be held in 2017.

‘Āina Mauna Christmas Tree Project Handout

Christmas Tree Brochure


Project Collaborators
Aileen Yeh, HARC Horticulturalist (Co-chair)
Mike Robinson, DHHL Forester (Co-chair)
Cheyenne Perry, Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance Coordinator
Carol Okada, HDOA Plant Quarantine Branch Manager
Christy Martin, CGAPS Public Information Officer
Chuck Chimera, HISC Weed Risk Assessment Specialist
Jacob Witcraft, DOFAW Nursery Forester
J.B. Friday, CTAHR Extension Forester
Kirsten Whatley, Preserve Hawaii Director
Leslie Iseke, HDOA Plant Import Specialist
Nick Dudley, HARC Forester and Forestry Team Leader
Peter D. Simmons, HFIA Director
Philip Cannon, USFS Regional Forest Pathologist
Sheri S. Mann, DOFAW Forestry Program Manager
Travis Idol, HFI President

Other Resource Links
A Growing Regime for Container-Grown Douglas-Fir Seedlings
A Growing Regime for Containerized Grand Fir Seedlings

Photo Documentation