J. Timothy Tunison

excerpted from article in: Stone, Charles P., Clifford W. Smith, and J. Timothy Tunison. 1992. Alien plant invasions in native ecosystems of Hawaii: management and research. pp. 376-393.


Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), perceived as one of the most disruptive alien species in Hawaii. has threatened native ecosystems below 3,940 ft (1,200 m) elevation in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for about 30 years. Because this species has spread rapidly to high densities on the leeward side of Hawaii Island, invaded bare lava flows (which results in disruption of primary succession), has a broad elevational range (sea level to 6,500 ft [2,000 m] m) elevation), and has a tendency (to raise fuel loadings, efforts to control this hardy bunchgrass have been part of the program of resource management at Hawaii Volcanoes since the early 1960s. In an attempt to increase efficacy of fountain grass control, data on distribution of the grass, treatment effectiveness, and work load requirements were collected beginning in 1979) On the basis or the information obtained from observations and control attempts, five, management strategies were proposed in 1986; three of these have since been adopted to control this threat to Park ecosystems.


Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), native to Africa, was introduced to Hawaii Island in the Kona district in the early part of the 20th century. It is now well established on the leeward side of the Island, with highest densities in North Kona, North Kohala, and the Pohakuloa area. Scattered populations occur in windward areas, mostly in roadside habitats. Fountain grass is readily dispersed by vehicles, humans, wind, water, and possibly birds.

The species is perceived as one of the most disruptive alien plants in Hawaii (Smith 1985). This large bunchgrass can form monospecific stands, is stimulated by fire, and enhances fuel loadings, thus endangering native woody plant communities it invades. Fountain grass differs from most other nonnative grasses in that it colonizes bare or sparsely vegetated lava flows, thereby disrupting primary succession. It grows in xeric and mesic habitats from sea level to above 8,990 ft (2.740 m) elevation Jacobi, pers. comm.). Potential distribution in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may include all areas outside closed-canopy rain forest. Therefore, a control program in the Park has also had to address fountain grass distribution in the vicinity of the Park.


Literature Cited

Gardner, D.E., and C.J. Davis. 1982. The prospects for biological control of nonnative plants in Hawaiian national parks. Tech. Rep. 45, Univ. Hawaii Coop. Natl. Park Resour. Stud. Unit. Honolulu.

Jacobi, J.D., and F.R. Warshauer. [this volume] Distribution of six alien plant species m upland habitats on the island of Hawai'i.

Marlin, G., P.-Y. Lai, and G.Y. Funasaki. [this volume] Status of biological control of weeds in Hawai'i and implications for managing native ecosystems.

Smith, C.W. 1985. Impact of alien plants in Hawai'i's native biota. In Hawai'i's terrestrial ecosystems: preservation and management , ed. C.P. Stone and J.M. Scott, 180-250. Univ. Hawaii Coop. Nail. Park Resour. Stud. Unit. Honolulu: Univ. Hawaii Pr.

Tunison, J.T., and C.P. Stone. [this volume] Special Ecological Areas: an approach to alien plant control in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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