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people harvesting seeds from trees
Mānoa Outdoor Circle volunteers harvest seeds and seedlings for their 1,000-tree giveaway event later this year.

Every two years, the Mānoa Outdoor Circle hosts a 1,000-tree giveaway event, handing out free trees to anyone interested in the community. For this year’s event, participants will likely receive a tree from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Lyon Arboretum.

person cutting a branch of a tree
Tim Kroessig

On March 11, the arboretum hosted volunteers from the Mānoa Outdoor Circle to harvest seeds and seedlings for its tree giveaway later this year. Varieties included mountain apple, kukui (candlenut), mānele (soap berry), ulu (breadfruit), māmaki (Hawaiian medicinal plant), kokiʻo keʻokeʻo (Hawaiian Hibiscus), koa, ʻōhiʻa lehua, and cacao (chocolate). Approximately 500 trees will be grown from material sourced from Lyon.

“We are always looking for opportunities to connect with the local community and spread knowledge about the importance of plants in our everyday lives, and the larger role they play to provide us with important ecosystem services,” said Tim Kroessig, Lyon Arboretum horticulture manager.

Kroessig worked with Liloa Dunn, Lyon’s ground and collections manager, to develop a list of Hawaiian, Polynesian and fruiting plants that they could easily harvest from their collection and grow to a decent size within the timeframe of the project, which was less than a year. Kroessig said he was happy to assist the volunteers from the Mānoa Outdoor Circle, and said they were enthusiastic and easy to work with. One of the volunteers, Vanessa Distajo, said the enthusiasm and positivity went both ways.

“He said that being at Lyon Arboretum was his ‘dream job’ and you could really tell just from his passion, knowledge and expertise about all of the different plants,” said Distajo, who is the vice president of the Mānoa Outdoor Circle and Mālama Mānoa. “…It’s such a blessing to work with people like that in the community.”

Tree giveaway event

people walking around looking at plants
Mānoa Outdoor Circle 1,000-tree giveaway event at Mānoa Marketplace in 2018.

Distajo said they hope to host the 1,000-tree giveaway event sometime in November 2022 as part of the 110th anniversary of The Outdoor Circle, and they are currently working to secure the venue. For updates, visit the Mānoa Outdoor Circle website. According to Kroessig, those who receive a tree at the event will see many benefits.

“Trees can provide shade, food in the form of fruit, and aesthetic appeal to your yard or property. They also provide habitat for other organisms such as birds and pollinator insects like butterflies and bees. If you grow Hawaiian and Polynesian trees and plants you are also helping to preserve a part of the Native Hawaiian culture and ecosystems,” Kroessig said.

people surrounded by trees and plants looking at the camera
Mānoa Outdoor Circle’s first visit to Lyon Arboretum. From left, Mānoa Outdoor Circle President Jeremy Lam, Tim Kroessig, Raedelle Van Fossen, Vanessa Distajo and Allison Fisher.

Allison Fisher, a UH Mānoa senior majoring in biology in the School of Life Sciences and a board member for Mānoa Outdoor Circle, is looking forward to assisting with the organizing and planning for the tree giveaway.

“Lyon Arboretum’s involvement has given us an exciting opportunity to incorporate varieties of plants that may not be easily accessible to the general public,” Fisher said. “They have large reserves of desirable native species and fruit trees that add value to our inventory.”

Fisher added, “With Outdoor Circle I have had the opportunity to see how the passion of those who care for the Mānoa Valley can translate to tangible progress. As a newer resident (compared to those who have been here for decades), I think it’s important to understand how the most pressing issues, such as redistricting, development and cultural preservation, really affect the community and how they can be addressed in a collaborative manner. I believe my biggest contributions to the organization are being a voice for younger residents and showing up when hands-on work is needed.”

Bringing the Mānoa community together

This collaboration between Lyon Arboretum, Mānoa Outdoor Circle and Malama Mānoa was birthed out of a summit in December 2021 for Mānoa stakeholder organizations to become more familiar with one another through discussions, social network mapping, problem solving and more. The organizations shared their mission statements, needs and suggested community service projects for potential collaborations. Distajo connected with Lyon Arboretum Education Manager Raedelle Van Fossen who then connected her with Kroessig. The three groups hope to collaborate on more activities in the future.

For more on Lyon Arboretum’s events and activities, visit its website.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Building a Sustainable and Resilient Campus Environment: Within the Global Sustainability and Climate Resilience Movement (PDF), Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF) and Becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (PDF) one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Marc Arakaki

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