Meet Lehua Todero — Nursery Manager

Meet Our Team
March 22, 2022

For Lehua Todero, restoring Hawaiʻi’s native forests is the work of a lifetime. The Big Island native grew up among her namesake ʻōhiʻa lehua trees, later channeling her love of nature into a conservation career. “I feel like I am fulfilling my purpose by collecting and saving seeds,” she says, “and helping to restore my island home.”

Lehua has served as Terraformation’s nursery manager since October 2020. She’s responsible for propagating the young plants for the various restoration sites, as well as collecting native seeds and managing the seed bank. With Terraformation’s forestry team spread across the Hawaiian Islands, Lehua coordinates closely with the Chief Forestry Officer, Jill Wagner, and the Head of Seed Banking, Marian Chau, to keep the plants flourishing across different terrains. 

Terraformation’s flagship restoration site, Pacific Flight at Kaupalaoa — home to nearly 7,000 plants — was formerly a dry forest denuded 200 years ago. While Pacific Flight is arid, with desert-like terrain, Terraformation’s newest site, ʻŌhiʻa Lani, provides a new opportunity to grow wet-forest species.

Lehua at the nursery at Pacific Flight at Kaupalaoa.

After graduating from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, Lehua worked at the National Tropical Botanical Garden at Limahuli on Kauai. Lehua connected with Terraformation through Jill Wagner, with whom she was already working at the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank. 

She was drawn to Terraformation for its unique focus on seed collection and banking. While many organizations aim to restore land and plant trees, a lack of planning for adequate seed sourcing can undermine projects. In addition, native plants can be slow-growing — some Hawaiian species take eight months just to germinate. Because “trees only grow so fast,” as Lehua points out, a comprehensive restoration plan needs to optimize seed sourcing and cultivation.

Access to both seeds and collection sites can pose a challenge. According to Lehua, access to sites and the permission of private landowners are critical to obtaining native seeds in sufficient quantities. By banking these hard-to-obtain seeds, sites can be restored more rapidly after natural disasters, and conservationists can save species on the brink of extinction.

Lehua Todero and Jill Wagner collecting seeds in the field.

Lehua stresses that restoration action isn’t limited to the nursery. Communities and homeowners can focus on planting native species in parks and gardens, which can help with water consumption and bring back local biodiversity. 

Lehua says she has felt a “strong connection to the land and the forest” all her life, so managing Terraformation’s nursery is a dream job. And as Pacific Flight begins to regain its native biodiversity, she’s optimistic about Terraformation’s goals for the Hawaiian Islands and beyond. “Seeing what the landscape can be, what the forest can look like, gives me hope in what we’re doing.”

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