The Fruity Foe
Strawberry guava, called waiawi (yellow-fruited) or waiawiulaula (red-fruited) in Hawaiian, is a fruiting tree that was brought to Hawaii in the 19th century from its native land of Brazil. Here, the ornamental and delicious plant found ideal growing conditions in an environment free of predators and diseases. Many enjoy the strawberry guava fruit, which is slightly acidic but tastes similar to passion fruit with a hint of strawberry. You can cut the fruit in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds or just enjoy it whole. While the skin is edible, it is best removed for a sweeter taste. The waiawi tree, however, is not particularly popular with a lot of locals. Despite its beauty and delectable fruit, government agencies have deemed the strawberry guava as one of Hawaii’s most destructive non-native species.
Able to grow and spread at alarming rates, countless acres of native forests are invaded by waiawi, crowding out indigenous plant species by forming dense and impenetrable undergrowth. This ultimately disrupts natural areas altering native animal habitats, changing ecosystems and providing refuge for the local agricultural industry’s major pest—alien fruit flies. The tree is difficult to eradicate and, at current rates, officials predict they could cover nearly half of the Big Island from sea level to about 4,000 feet. Work to control its growth is underway, including hand clearing, herbicides and, in recent years, researchers have proposed to introduce a Brazilian scale insect, Tectococcus ovatus. Studies show the insect to be a safe and effective remedy in reducing the vigor of the tree since it feeds solely on the strawberry guava plant. You may be interested in trying waiawi fruit for yourself, but it is important to remain knowledgeable and understand the detrimental effects of this evasive, non-native plant.