Tree tobacco

Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) heralds from South America, but in Hawaii, it’s an invasive species.
Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) heralds from South America, but in Hawaii, it’s an invasive species. The chances of eradicating it are slight. Controlling its spread is a more realistic possibility. But tree tobacco is one invasive species in Hawaii that does have something going for it.

Enter Blackburn’s sphinx moth (Manduca blackburni), a large, endemic moth, once thought extinct, and a long-time resident on the endangered species list. Among its problems is that its host species, ‘aiea, (Nothocestrum spp.) has been on the decline for a while. ‘Aiea belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) as does tree tobacco.

It seems that the moth, in the interests of survival, decided tree tobacco is not so bad. So we have an endangered species becoming reliant on an invasive species. Hmm. As I said, control is the most likely approach with tree tobacco and that will undoubtedly involve checking to see whether Blackburn’s sphinx moth is present before removing areas of tree tobacco.

That’s good news for the plant in this photo. I found it at Pu’u Wa’awa’a, a State Forest Reserve on the northern slope of Hualalai. Pu’u Wa’awa’a is home to a variety of endangered plants and animals including Blackburn’s sphinx moth.

For more information about tree tobacco, go to cabi.org/isc/datasheet/36324.
For more information about Blackburn’s sphinx moth, go to fws.gov/pacificislands/fauna/bsmoth.html.
For more information about Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a, go to puuwaawaa.org.

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