Koke’e part 2 of 2: The Mesic Forest

Haha lua & Hala pepe

The Pihea and Alakai Swamp trails are some of the most popular trails in Koke’e. Birders of all persuasions find these trails to be almost guaranteed sightings of native forests birds as well as the chance to see something rare. For plant enthusiasts too, these trails showcase the beauty of Kaua’i wetter forests. But the trails that overlook the Waimea canyon harbor some interesting denizens as well. They offer a glimpse into the mesic forest…

We started the day by hiking Kumuwela trail. Here, we were introduced to quite the nasty invasive; blackberry. Blackberry for me was worse than the thimbleberry that is so common on O’ahu. The numerous prickles were a pain and the plants very plentiful along the trailsides.

Luckily, it wasn’t all bad. Many haha (Cyanea spp.) are typically not found in this dry a forest. Than again this isn’t your average Cyanea. Haha lua (Cyanea leptostegia) is the tallest known extant member of the genus. The ones we were seeing were pushing 20-30 ft tall. And it was great to see them in healthy populations.

These populations were rejuvenating as well. Nearby, we came across an individual transitioning from the juvenile stage of the plant. Many Cyanea are also hetrophyllous. On C. leptostegia, the juvenile leaves are much more lobed than the almost strap-like leaves of the adult plants.

There was a lot to like about this area of the park. I had never hiked this area of Koke’e before. It was very pleasing to come across plants that were new to me.

One of these was this Melicope barbigera. The common name for this alani on Kaua’i is uahiapele which can be translated as Pele’s smoke. After seeing the underside of the plant, you see why this name is appropriate. Diagnostic to this species, all along the midrib of the leaves are dense, gray hairs.

One of these new plants was one that I was always interested in seeing. This is Po’ola nui (Bidens cosmoides). The floral characteristics of this plant diverge greatly from the other native Bidens. The anther and style are exserted well beyond the corolla, which in many cases is indicative of bird pollination. And you, dear reader, know nothing catches my attention more than bird pollinated native plants.

That about wraps it up for this post. As well-hiked as the wet forest trails out, the mesic forest is just as interesting. So if you are ever in Koke’e, try hiking some of the trails in the southern part of the park. Your inner plant nerd will be happy.

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