Plant a Wish Project

A Maui couple is traveling across the U.S., planting trees as they go.

Photo: Sean Michael Hower

Joseph Imhoff and Sara Tekula want people to plant native trees. But instead of standing on a soapbox and lecturing, they hit the road last May on an odyssey to plant native trees in all 50 states. Their project, called Plant a Wish, is designed to inspire people across the country to restore native habitats in their own neck of the woods. To widen the impact, they’re shooting a documentary about their experiences along the way.

“At first, Sara thought we should hit up key places around the country, kind of like a band going on tour. But I thought, ‘Why not do every state?”’ says Imhoff. The two met in 2005 while clearing invasive species from a flower farm in Kula; they married two years later and planted a koa tree to mark the occasion. (She’s a writer; he works for the zipline company, Skyline Eco Adventures. Both own the production studio Noni Films.)

Now at the halfway point, with 25 states complete, the couple is back home in Upcountry Maui, waiting for the Mainland’s winter season to settle, and prepping for the second leg of their journey next month. “We often joke that we could just ‘guerilla plant’ by pulling over, planting a tree, and saying, ‘next!”’ says Tekula. “But our underlying mission is to educate and connect communities through the event of planting a tree.”

So far, they’ve placed trees at the birthplace of Malcolm X in Nebraska, at a neighborhood revival project in Washington, D.C., in rural Kentucky areas devastated by mountaintop removal, in the front yards of homes, at city parks and at museums. The couple has stayed with family and friends, camped in empty lots and slept in a dingy hotel room in Maine. (They realize that they’re creating greenhouse gases by traveling, and have partnered with a local company for carbon offsets.)

The couple plans to end the tour in Hawaii in late summer or early fall of this year. For the finale, they envision a statewide effort, in which people will plant all types of native trees across the Islands. “It’s really an indescribable thing that happens when a group gets together, and leaves the land better than when they found it,” says Tekula. “I think people feel closer to one another; they feel like they bonded.”

To follow their journey, donate to the tour’s fund or have a native tree planted on Maui, visit

A Sturdy Investment

Photo: Courtesy Hawaiian Legacy

Plant a tree, then cut it down? That doesn’t sound right. But Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods is putting a twist on traditional tree planting. In 2009, the company began selling units of 100 koa seedlings as an investment opportunity. Here’s how it works: Rare tropical hardwood trees indigenous to Hawaii, mainly koa, are planted on a 2,700 acre site on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast. (The land was once a koa forest, a property of King Kamehameha I and, ultimately, a pastureland.)

The trees are harvested in stages over a 25-year period, and the lumber is sold to woodworkers or artisans who currently rely on dead, dying or fallen koa trees. The company says the site will grow 1.3 million trees by 2016. Even better, 1,000 of its acres have been set aside for a reforestation effort.