Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park)

Kipukas are areas that have older vegetation than the surrounding areas.  This is the result of their having had lava flows cover the surrounding areas, missing the kipuka and sparing its vegetation.


Ecological Zone: Upland forest and woodland

Kipuka Puaulu is located on Mauna Loa.  Therefore, the lava flows that created the kipuka must have originated on this mountain's slopes.


Getting There

There is a large parking area at the entrance of the kipuka.  A large sign, with some interpretive information, is at the entrance of the trail.

The kipuka has large trees.  As a result, it stands in contrast to the surrounding area with relatively small Metrosideros polymorpha (Hawaiian: `ohi`a) trees.

Kipuka Puaulu entrance


No special precautions are needed to enjoy this area.  The smooth dirt trail is relatively flat.

This site is divided into three sections:

Section 1: Kipuka Entrance

The are a number of interesting species and observations you can make before you get into this kipuka.  A "kipuka" is the equivalent of an island around which lava has more recently flown.  As a result, the kipuka is representative of an older environment than the surrounding area.  In this case, Kipuka Puaulu has old, deep ash soils.  The trees have had hundreds of years to grow.  In contrast, the surrounding vegetation is relatively recent (ignore, for the moment that part of the surrounding area was burned by a major fire in 2000).  As a result, there is a very large difference in the species and their size between the outside and inside of the kipuka.  

You'll see more kipukas as you travel up the Mauna Loa Strip Road as well as other places in the park.


Outside the Kipuka
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Look around before you go in.  If you have a clear day, you can see the slopes of Mauna Loa and appreciate the size of the mountain.

The plants outside the kipuka are representative of those that occur on relatively dry sites at this elevation.  You'll see many of the same species if you drive up the Mauna Loa Strip Road (which starts at this parking lot).

Mauna Loa in the distance
If you look across the parking lot at the area that was burned, you'll see a combination of short-stature Metrosideros polymorpha tree (many of which are dead, or near-dead), some bracken fern and many clumps of bushy beardgrass.
In the center of the parking area, on a small traffic island, you'll see some good examples of mid-sized Metrosideros polymorpha.
At the right of the entrance trail there is a good example of an Acacia koa.  Check this tree to see if there are any flowers.  You can note the major recognition characteristic: the sickle-shaped leaves.
The left of the trail is dominated by several shrub species and a grass.  Styphelia has pink and white berries most of the year.
Dodonaea shrubs are about the same size as Styphelia in this area.
Bearded bushgrass
Enter the kipuka, passing through the fence to the branch in the trail.  The fence is another reminder of the problems of grazing animals that were present in the park until recently. These grazing animals had an impact on the vegetation.
Inside the Kipuka
An interesting tree is located just behind the sign at the trail intersection.  This is Ochrosea haleakalae.  It was planted at this site to protect it.  This is an interesting species because it ....
Section 2: Start to Giant Koa (left branch of the trail)

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Take the left branch of the trail.

The first very large tree adjacent to the trail on the right is Sapindus saponaria (Hawaiian: a`e or manele; Common name: soapberry). There is a post with a number 1 marking this tree.

This species is one of the three very large trees found in this area (the other two are the koa and `ohi`a).

This is a seasonally deciduous tree that drops its leaves in the winter.  That is an unusual trait for a tree in Hawaii since this is a wet season and therefore one that would ordinarily be favorable for growth.  This may be a hold-over trait from its place of origin; there winter inactivity is important.

The branch on the right is from an adult.  These are the branches that are high in the canopy.

You are more likely to see some juvenile plants (below).  Their structure is different than the adult.  

Sapindus saponaria Sapindus saponaria
This is a ripe soapberry fruit. Sapindus saponaria (ripe fruit)
Pipturus albidus (Hawaiian: mamake) is first encountered just down the trail.  There it forms an arch over the trail.

This species is in the nettle family (Urticaceae).  However, this Hawaiian endemic doesn't have the "nettles."  You don't need to worry about being stung by this plant.

It is a good idea to be able to spot this species.  You can recognize this plant by the location of the flowers and fruit along the stem.

This is a common plant in the kipuka and you'll see it many times along the trail.

Pipturus albidus
Pipturus albidus (leaf) Pipturus albidus (stem with fruit)
Geranium homeanum on the right of the trail.

This short, ground-hugging species is found in patches in many areas in the kipuka.  The shape of the leaves is very distinctive.

Rubus argutus (Common Name: blackberry) is found next.

This forms large, tangled vines. You will recognize it with its white flowers and red berries.

This is an alien species that has sharp thorns along its stems.  Be careful if you are tempted to eat the fruit.

Rubus argutus (flower)
Rubus argutus (fruit) Rubus argutus
Acacia koa (Hawaiian: koa) trees are common along the trail.  There is a small stand of trees along the left side of the trail.

Notice the sickle-shaped phyllodes.  These are expanded petioles, not true leaves.

The trunks of the younger trees are quite white and smooth.  With age, the trunk usually gets darker and becomes rougher.

Acacia koa (phyllodes)

Acacia koa (trunk)

Acacia koa (trunk)
Looking ahead you can see large Metrosideros polymorpha (Hawaiian: `ohi`a) trees. Metrosideros polymorpha
There is a Sophora chrysophylla (Hawaiian: mamane) tree on the left of the trail.  It is about 15 ft. tall.

You can identify this tree by it having bipinnate leaves.  Some seasons (specifically in the winter??), you'll be helped because this species has large, bright yellow flowers.

There are just a few individuals of this species along the trail, so this is likely to be your only opportunity to see this species in the kipuka.  It is found elsewhere as it ranges to lower elevations (you'll see it at Thurston Lava Tube) as well as at high elevations (such as the site at the top of the Mauna Loa Strip Road).

This is the species that is important to the Palila birds.

Sophora chrysophylla
There are several large Metrosideros polymorpha (Hawaiian: `ohi`a) trees on the left of the trail.

Metrosideros polymorpha (trunk)
Peperomia spp. (Hawaiian: `ala`ala wai nui) are found on the right side of the trail.

Generally, this is a short species that covers the ground in patches of many plants.  


Peperomia spp.

Peperomia spp.

Ipomoea indica (Hawaiian: koali `awa; Common Name: morning glory) is found along the trail in several places in this section, and it is even more abundant in the next section.

This is a vine that covers many of the other plants.  This isn't an out-of-control alien; this is a native species.

Ipomoea indica
There is a lava tube a little further along the trail on the right.
Note the moss on the trunk of a fallen tree on the right. Moss
There is a fork in the trail.  Take the left branch for a short excursion that lead to a huge Acacia koa (Hawaiian: koa) tree.

Acacia koa (trunk)
Section 3: Giant Koa to Start

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Retrace your steps and return to the trail branch.  Continue by turning to the left.
Hibiscadelphus  giffardianus (Hawaiian: hau kuahiwi).

This is a very rare tree, with just two individuals planted (next to each other) in the park.

Hibiscadelphus giffardianus
Hibiscadelphus giffardianus (leaf) Hibiscadelphus giffardianus (flower)
Hibiscadelphus giffardianus

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Last Update: 07/31/02

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