SAKAU PLANT PROBLEMS IN POHNPEI

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PALIKIR, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (February 11, 2000 – FSM Information Service)---A false sakau (kava) plant that has taken root in Pohnpei threatens the real thing, Piper methysticum, and has raised serious concern from experts who are calling for its immediate destruction.

College of Micronesia-FSM professor Dana Lee Ling has photographed a plant in Rohi, U Municipality, that many call Piper auritum, also known as Hawaiian Sakau.

The plant does not have the same effect as Pohnpei sakau, and, though it looks similar, there are differences.

The plant's upper branches extend out horizontally and grow much larger than sakau en Pohnpei.

When the leaves of the false sakau are held up to the sun, one can perceive a very small, white fringe of hairs on the leaf, said Lee Ling.

Also, when the leaves are crushed, they have a "medicinal" smell.

Where sakau en Pohnpei forms non-spreading clumps, this new plant spreads rapidly via suckers and can damage sakau en Pohnpei, said Lee Ling.

The plant might cross breed with sakau en Pohnpei and therefore dilute the local product, or it might stand over the local plant and steal the sun, he said.

He also added that, to date, no one knows how it got to Pohnpei, but it is suspected it has been here for about one year.

He has placed the images on, http://www.comfsm.fm/~dleeling/invasive/hawaiian_sakau.html, a web site he uses to keep people informed about sakau en Pohnpei.

At first he was not sure which species of the Piper plant it was, but after the putting the images on the web, specialists began identifying it as P. auritum.

One correspondence from Jim Space said that David Lorence of the National Tropical Botanical Garden identified it as a species that suckers prolifically and has a characteristic odor like the medicine "Ben-Gay."

Lorence also said, according to the web site, that the plant is native to Mexico and Central America and is an invasive species in Florida, United States, earning popular names of eared pepper and hoja santa.

Lynn Raulenson, a botanist, whose correspondence is also on the web site and who has received "well dried and in good condition" specimens of the plant, wrote that she agreed that the plant was P. auritum.

She wrote, "I agree that you had better move those that are already there OUT (emphasis in the context) of Pohnpei; this species seems to be able to be very invasive..."

Those who have more questions are advised to contact the Nature Conservancy in Kolonia Town.

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