comscore Despite its attractions, strawberry guava still a bully | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Despite its attractions, strawberry guava still a bully

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This story has been corrected. See below.


In the never-ending struggle to control or eradicate plants, insects, reptiles and other life forms that harm the native environment — not counting humans — the state wants to import a bug that biologists believe will stunt the growth and spread of strawberry guava.

This is round 2 of strawberry guava suppression, the first preliminary event having been suspended after clamorous opposition from the Save the Strawberry Guava contingent.

The state Department of Agriculture apparently bungled its initial attempt to bring in the bug when its environmental assessment failed to consider the cultural aspects of the insidious tree with its golf ball-size fruit.

What’s wrong with these assessment officials anyway? How could they have not contemplated the strawberry guava culture in all its refined manifestations?

There are the glistening, color-boosted jellies and jams, sweetened and flavor-augmented with high fructose corn syrup, or with real not-grown-in-Hawaii cane sugar.

From its dense yet flexible trunks and branches, artists have carved cosmic sculptures, flutes, pencil holders and other objets d’art to sell truthfully as genuine native-grown wood.

Prideful chefs and restaurants trumpet strawberry guava-smoked ribs, piquant strawberry guava compote and strawberry guava dressing drizzled over hearts of palm. Intrepid hikers dine on the au naturel fruit in between bites of Spam musubi while traversing mosquito-infested valleys.

It is a culture not to be dismissed lightly — or is it?

While we think about that, let’s move on to the live-and-let-live types who insist that strawberry guava, like coqui frogs, be given sanctuary in Hawaii, and who rail against government intrusion and for the right to do whatever they want on their own property.

Presumably, these people would also give refuge to stinging nettles, fire ants, venomous snakes and feral pigs, or maybe not.

In any case, the department’s plan is to bring in the Brazilian scale insect that feeds on strawberry guava to slow the plants’ growth and spread.

The problem is that the ag department has a rep in the islands that’s just a few clicks above that of the Department of Education. Who hasn’t heard and repeated the rat-and-mongoose fiasco — though that was a sugar growers’ mistake in the 1880s?

Still, the ag agency has earned reproach because of its inability to put together an effective plan to keep out menacing plants and animals, among other deficiencies.

The low level of trust and — despite research by the U.S. Forestry Service — the risk of releasing a nonnative bug has some folks duly worried. But the charlatans and overseers of their own private, counterfeit nature preserves cannot disregard the threat strawberry guava presents to the islands’ native forests.

The plant with a cute-sounding name is really a bully. It crowds out koa, ohia and hapuu. Its chemical properties prevent native plants from germinating. It creates impenetrable thickets. It feeds wild pigs that spread seeds through feces and breeds fruit flies. In starving the forests, it starves native birds.

If the live-and-let-live types prevail, they will let die the heart of Hawaii’s environment.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at



» The U.S. Forest Service first proposed a plan to introduce the Brazilian scale insect to Hawaii to control strawberry guava. After the Forest Service withdrew the proposal, the state Department of Agriculture decided to pursue the plan. The above column, which ran on July 1, says that the Agriculture Department proposed the plan.


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