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Bingabing trees on Kauai concern conservationists

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LIHUE » A plant with umbrella-size leaves and a bad habit of choking out native species has taken up residence on Kauai.

The Kauai Invasive Species Committee is trying to find out how widespread bingabing trees have become after investigating more than a dozen plants near the mouth of the Hana­lei River, the Garden Island newspaper reported.

Macaranga mappa is established on Hawaii island and Oahu in wet, low-elevation areas, according to the Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk website. The trees were seeded around Hilo from aircraft after a large fire.

Some of the trees on Kauai already are mature, said Keren Gundersen, the committee project manager.

"We can see that it’s spreading," Gundersen said. "So it has been there for a while."

Bingabing is native to the Philippines. Besides huge leaves, the trees have small pink or red flowers at their tops. A related species, Macaranga tanarius, is established on Kauai and has smaller leaves and green flowers.

Gundersen guesses that the ornamental tree was brought to the Hana­lei area intentionally.

In 1927, 81 trees were planted in the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve. The status of forestry planting is uncertain, according to Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk.

"It’s new for us, but the plant is actually somewhat widespread in the Hilo area," Gundersen said, "which is why we’re trying to get a handle on it really quickly."

The invasive species committee will conduct a survey to determine the abundance of bingabing. Crews will work with property owners to remove trees.

"If we find out this is already widespread, it may not be a target for us," Gundersen said.

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