Richard Morse

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - May 04, 2011
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Richard Morse is leading the charge in the battle against the Khaki weed, those annoying little kukus many of us remember pricking our piggies on during recess or on field trips to local parks.

But Morse, 62, says there was a not-so-distant time when there weren’t any Khaki weeds littering our fields.

“When I was a youngster, Khaki weed wasn’t in our Hawaii environment. We went barefoot everywhere, no problem,” says Morse, whose family lived on the Big Island, Maui and Lanai when his father worked in the pineapple plantations, eventually settling in Kaneohe.

Morse encountered the weed for the first time in 1991 when walking in Kapiolani Park.

“I was completely shocked; I thought it was bees!” he remembers. “When I looked down and saw this flat little plant, I was positive that I had never seen this creature before in my life. Looking closer, I saw those mini-burrs and couldn’t believe it was them that stung me. When I saw how many burrs there were and how willingly they leave the plant, my gut told me that we were at a major turning point in our quality of life in Hawaii.”

A few years passed and Morse watched the invasive pest spread and proliferate until the self-described activist decided to adopt the cause as his own. He brushed up on the plant, scientific name Alternanthera pungens, and learned that Australians have been dealing with the pesky pokeys for years. And although James Skeer of the Animal and Plant Control in South Australia told Morse that the “Khaki weed is regarded as a very serious weed threat in South Australia,” further investigation revealed that the weed was not even listed on the state of Hawaii’s official list of invasive weeds to watch out for.

“Eventually I realized if you want to get a weed out of the ground, you have to go pull it up yourself,” says Morse, who will lead a Weed Out Project May 7 at Kaimana Beach Park. The weeding begins at 9:30 a.m., and volunteers are advised to bring gloves to handle the burrs. Bottled water and snacks will be provided.

“This project serves as a model of what a little community effort can do to preserve our cultural right to go barefoot, especially on our beaches,” explains the Makiki resident, who initiated two prior cleanups at the park earlier this year. “I hope to see that area barefoot-friendly on May 7.”

After the eradication is complete, Morse asks that community members take it upon themselves to continue the upkeep and pull up any new weeds that sprout up.

“Kaimana Beach Park never needs to have a pokey burr patch again. Continued vigilance means happy feet!” he says, adding, “Kaimana is a model of what can be done anywhere by anyone. I’m convinced we can rid the entire Kapiolani park, or any park, of this weed.

“It’s just a weed. We’re smarter than it. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

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