Someone’s been hacking the bark from acacia trees in Manoa Valley District Park.

And while the culprits have not been caught, some residents have identified a motive — a lively market in Hawaiian acacia bark, which reportedly can send you on a spiritual psychedelic journey.

“I want to give thanks and praise for helping us mere mortals achieve inner heights!!” a customer wrote on a website for one acacia purveyor on Oahu.

No one knows for sure whether the Manoa Park hackers are using it themselves or selling it. Or perhaps the attacks are the random acts of tree haters — though that seems odd, considering only the acacias have been targeted and the bark is not left on the ground.

Damaged Acacia Trees at Manoa Park.
Damaged acacia trees at Manoa Park. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I would assume they’re trying to sell it,” said Angela Richards Dona, a Manoa resident who’s been researching it with her husband Alessandro.

Alessandro first noticed people messing with the tree bark about a year ago. The species, Acacia confusa, is native to Southeast Asia, but has invaded much of the tropical Pacific.

The people Alessandro saw the first time were using something small, like a knife or pick, to take little pieces of bark.

In December or so, Manoa residents started noticing much larger gashes in the tree trunks that looked like they had been hacked by a machete. The six or so trees that have been damaged are in an isolated strip of the park mostly frequented by joggers and dog-walkers during the day.

The hackers, at least recently, appear to be working only at night.

In January, Manoa residents started talking about the damage on the social media website Nextdoor. One identified the perps as a white couple in their 30s “clearly high on something that makes them want to do this for hours at a time.”

Residents notified the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, which put notices on the trees reminding people that it’s against city regulations to deface a tree.

“It is strange for people to be scraping the bark off of trees,” said parks spokesman Nathan Serota. Park employees could only recall one other incident of tree molestation many years ago at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park.

“We really want to discourage it because it’s not good for the tree,” Serota said.

Tree wounds don’t heal. Instead, the tree cuts off nutrients to the damaged part, making it susceptible to funguses and pests, leading to decay. Enough structural damage and the tree poses a danger to passersby and must be cut down, Serota said.

“We want to stress to the public that trees are a benefit to everyone,” he said. “We hope people don’t disrespect the trees or harm them.”

Damaged Acacia Trees at Manoa Park.
The Honolulu Parks Department posted signs in January warning against stripping bark from acacia trees at Manoa Park. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The signs the department posted  in mid-January seem to be having some effect. There was a little more bark-stripping right after that, but since then it has stopped. The parks department plans to monitor the trees and take steps to prevent decay.

Hawaiian acacia root bark can be easily found on the internet. (There’s nothing to suggest that any of these businesses are connected to the Manoa park incidents.)

One of them is a website called The Acacia Store, with the motto “Intellectual Exploration.” The website says that “our Acacia is wild harvested here on Oahu, Hawaii. Acacia trees were brought to Hawaii from Taiwan in the 1920’s and planted by the Division of Forestry by the thousands.”

One customer responded with five out of five stars and the comment, “Oh My God!!”

A message left on the website Wednesday afternoon was not returned.

Another website for a Big Island business states that “This Acacia Confusa Root Bark is from the lush and majestic slopes below the rain forests atop Hawaii’s volcanic mountains.”

“Acacia Confusa is not native to Hawaii and is considered an invasive tree that is displacing the natural habitat, so you are doing the environment a favor by purchasing Acacia Confusa Root Bark from us.”

“However we still harvest sustainably, from mature trees, making sure to only take a little bit without causing any harm to the tree … Please note that our product is NOT INTENDED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, Product to be used for Textile Dye, Tanning Leather, Making soaps or incense.”

A website that offers acacia bark from Taiwan has this to say about its connection to ayahuasca, a psychedelic substance used in South American spiritual ceremonies.

The acacia “contains high concentrations of interesting alkaloids in its root and trunk bark. It appears attractive for use in ayahuasca analogs, though at this point, experience with such preparations remains limited.”

“Little research has been done, successful ayahuasca preparations and direct oral activity using the root bark and trunk bark have been reported.”

The bark contains a substance with a long chemical name, abbreviated as DMT. Its legality is murky. Several websites say that eBay banned sales of acacia bark in 2017.

Whatever its properties, many Manoa residents want whoever’s been stripping the bark to knock it off.

“It belongs to everyone,” Angela Dona said. “It’s just not right.”

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