Guava is not native to Hawaiʻi, though it’s made itself quite comfortable. Too comfortable. Likely originating from Central and South America, guava was brought to the Hawaiian islands early on in Western-contact days and has since provided wood, fruit and astringent medicine. But there’s one big problem with guava, strawberry guava in particular: it has become the most invasive tree species in Hawaiʻi. Though guava trees provide an abundance of lemon-sized, tart and aromatic fruit, they are in essence lofty weeds. And they are good at being weeds; strawberry guava even produces a chemical in the soil around its base which prevents the growth of other plants. The guavas form monolithic stands, their fruit drops, pigs eat the fruit, then carry the seeds to other areas where new guava trees sprout, vastly reduce the amount of available water and crowd out the plants growing there. This is particularly a problem for the vulnerable native flora of Hawaiʻi.
Hawaii grown: The give and take of Guava.
Fortunately, there is one flavorful thing that everyone can do at the very basic level of activism to protect precious native Hawaiian species from guava: eat guava. To prevent further spreading of the guava seeds, harvest the fruit before it falls to the ground. Slow Island uses all Hawaiʻi-grown ingredients from local sustainable farms, including guava, picked at peak ripeness. Their Passionfruit Orange Guava Culinary Syrup is the flavors of celebrated Hawaiian POG juice, but made with fresh, local fruit. It is real fruit flavored syrup for alcoholic drinks, to be drizzled on yogurt or ice cream, or as an addition to tropical sauces. By sourcing from their own community, Slow Island is fostering a symbiotic relationship: utilizing what the land can provide to create a product that boosts the economy of the land. In a small way, they are assisting guava trees in giving back to their adopted home.
Another perhaps obvious way to reduce invasive guava trees in Hawaiʻi is to stop large-scale production.
Part of the land that Common Ground Kauaʻi now thrives on was formerly a piece of Kilauea’s 600-acre Guava Kai Plantation. In addition to the invasive nature of guavas in Hawaiʻi, the fruit has also fallen steadily in price since 1989 and, from a big picture perspective, exporting the product contributes to Hawaiʻi’s lack of food autonomy. Although some guavas still grow on the now divided-up land, Common Ground utilizes their parcel in wholly sustainable and regenerative ways while reinventing Hawaiian food economy.