Category Archives: November 2016

Kiawe thorns on a Big Island beach.

Kiawes – a thorn in the foot

Kiawe thorns on a Big Island beach.

When twigs break off a kiawe, the thorns dry to hard, sharp spikes.

Kiawe thorns growing on a tree on the Big Island.

Kiawe thorns growing on the tree.

A stand of kiawe trees bordering a trail on the Big Island.

A stand of kiawe trees bordering a trail.

Hiking on the west side of the Big Island can be a hot and arid experience. The landscape is often barren lava or scrubby growth. If it’s scrubby growth, chances are that kiawe trees (Prosopis pallida) are prominent and if they are, it’s wise to tread carefully. That’s because kiawe trees produce long, tough thorns.

Hiking in slippahs (flip flops) is asking for trouble. A kiawe thorn will go through them like a knife through wet tissue. I’ve felt the jab of these thorns through my Tevas, which have robust soles of decent thickness. The first time I wore my new trail shoes, toward the end of the hike, crossing a kiawe-bordered beach, I felt a familiar prick in my foot. A thorn had buried itself in the ¾-inch thick sole and penetrated far enough to make itself felt. One of my routine tasks with my trail shoes, and the Tevas, is to examine the soles and extract any thorns with a pair of pliers. When a hike is over, it doesn’t mean the danger is past. Drive over one of these thorns and it can and does cause punctures.

But if all this makes it seem as if kiawes are reviled, that’s not the case. It’s widely used in smoking meats. The smell of burning kiawe is commonplace.

Kiawe isn’t a native tree; it originated in Peru. In fact, all Hawaii’s kiawes can trace their roots, as it were, back to a single seed planted by a priest in Honolulu in 1828.

A great barracuda prowls a Big Island reef.

A truly great barracuda

A great barracuda prowls a Big Island reef.
Great barracudas are a fish I see every once in a while when I’m snorkeling. They’re generally about two feet long, with a somewhat menacing look, and a languid swimming style. They tend to keep their distance, easing away until they melt into the distance, which is fine with me since they’ve been known to attack humans.

Recently, I was snorkeling at a regular spot and approaching a shallower area where I usually find a variety of reef fish. I spotted the fish above from quite a distance. It was hanging motionless in the water. As I closed in I could see that this barracuda was huge, twice the size of any I’d seen previously in both length and girth.

I wanted to get closer for a photo, but I was also wary. Previous barracudas that I’d seen had looked capable of inflicting a nasty bite. This one looked like it could remove a limb. I snapped a few photos as the fish drifted out toward deeper water. Then it swished its tail and vanished at warp speed.

John Hoover says that great barracudas “grow to about 5½ feet, but are usually half this size in Hawaii.” I’d estimate this one was around four feet long, so a big one for these waters. (The yellow tang just behind it is probably six to eight inches long.) He also notes that “large individuals tend to increase in girth rather than length,” which was certainly true in this case.

In my attempts to identify what I see in the water, I use John P. Hoover’s book The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. His website is

A hapuu fern on the Big Island

Hapu‘u fern

A hapuu fern on the Big Island
Hapu‘u ferns are endemic to Hawaii and can grow to 25 feet high, depending on the type. I like how the fronds uncurl, gradually revealing more details. The golden brown hair is called pulu. I found these in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is one of the places where the fern grows best.

For more information about hapu‘u ferns, go to

A hapuu fern on the Big Island

A sphecid wasp, P. fervens

Sphecid wasp

A sphecid wasp, P. fervens
I saw this creature on a wall being eyed by a gold dust day gecko as a possible meal. Eventually the gecko thought better of it, which is probably just as well. This is a sphecid wasp and they can pack a sting, though they aren’t aggressive.

From searches on and, it appears that this sphecid is in the genus Prionyx, probably P. fervens.