Written in 1995, the 2-page section on mamaki in “Hawaii’s Plants and Animals: Biological Sketches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park” is refreshing in its meticulous and original description of the plant’s anatomy and favored environment.
The book’s subtitle indicates authors Charles P. Stone and Linda W. Pratt may live in Volcano National Park on the Big Island. This area on the south side of the island is ideally suited for mamaki due to the high volume of rain (240 inches annually) versus Kona (12) on the west or Hawi (58) on the north with an island average of 63 inches. So it is likely that the authors have real, first-hand observations of the plant…and it shows. I especially appreciate their description of mamaki’s highly variable appearance…
While usually a much-branched shrub, older mamaki may be single-trunked and more than 20 ft tall. The bark of mamaki is thin and bumpy, often of an orange hue. Leaves are usually ovate and are extremely variable in size, ranging from 2 to 16 in. long. In sunny exposed areas, plants often bear small leaves, but mamaki in shady forest understories usually have leaves at least 8 in. long and 6 in. wide.
I have a minor exception with the following sentence…
The larvae of this [Kamehameha butterfly] and other butterflies and moths feed upon mamaki leaves, leaving irregular holes.
While the statement is technically true, my observations have been that the Chinese Rose Beetle is far more destructive and more likely to be responsible for the holes. I encourage the authors to use a flashlight and check out a plant with holes during the first few hours of night to see if they can confirm this. No need to give Hawaii’s official insect a bad rap if most of the holes people see are actually caused by a pest.
On the other hand, the Chinese Rose Beetle may be more prevalent at farms where there is less wildlife variety that might serve as natural inhibitors to such pests.