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Protecting Paradise

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research profile.

It seems that even Paradise on Earth requires a bit of pest control once in a while. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers working in Hawaii know the tropical island state can look like a gigantic Garden of Eden to invasive insects, including the Erythrina gall wasp that’s been wreaking havoc on native wiliwili trees as well as an introduced favorite, the coral bean tree.

To combat the invasive wasp,  a scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) teamed with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and others to “recruit” a beneficial wasp from East Africa.  This wasp lays its eggs inside the galls caused by the invasive wasp’s attacks on the trees.  The galls are where the pest larvae feed on the tree. When the beneficial wasp’s larvae hatch, they gobble up the gall wasp larvae.  But as adults, they don’t pose any threat to non-target insects.

Wasps aren’t the only ones to fall prey to Hawaii’s charms.  Humans often can’t resist Hawaii’s lush beauty—or its tropical fruits.  In fact, passion for the succulent red berries of the native ohelo  shrub sends aficionados scrambling across—and often disrupting—the fragile habitats that are home to this delectable favorite.

To satisfy humans’ cravings for the ohelo berry, and to protect its natural habitat, ARS horticulturist Francis T.P. Zee and his colleagues have collaborated with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Big Island Candies and the Big Island Association of Nurserymen to create the first-ever ohelo berry cultivar for farm production.

The new cultivar, dubbed “Kilauea,” has produced berries in a surprisingly short period of time after being moved from greenhouse to field, and holds promise as a colorful potted plant ideal for home and office settings.  Maybe someday, consumers on the mainland also will be saying “aloha” to this versatile island beauty.

Entomologist Michael Gates examines specimens of the beneficial wasp Eurytoma erythrinae.

Entomologist Michael Gates examines specimens of the beneficial wasp Eurytoma erythrinae.

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