09 Aug Rare Molokaʻi Cyanea Saved From Extinction
In exciting conservation news, a team of dedicated biologists have successfully saved the endangered Molokaʻi Cyanea (Cyanea procera) from an extremely close extinction. In 1984, Ed Misaki, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve on Molokaʻi was out hunting when he came across a giant, unique plant that he had never seen before. While Misaki knew right away that it was in the lobelia family, he had never seen one so large, this plant being thirty feet tall and six to eight feet in diameter at the base. After samples were taken and studied, it was confirmed that the plant was the Molokaʻi Cyanea, a plant endemic to the island of Molokaʻi. Teams of biologists went into the forests to find other individual plants, hoping to gage the amount still alive. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a few other plants were found throughout the Waikolu Valley mountains, however, by 2005 only one seedling and one older plant survived.
These two survivors became an intense project for the Conservancy and state’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program. Nets were placed under the plants to collect ripe fruit, and over flowers to stop insects from eating them, but worms and mosquitos continued to devastate any fruits and flowers the plants produced. As trial and error continued, the older of the plants fell from the cliff it was rooted to and died. With only one plant remaining, botanists decided to try a systemic insecticide that had shown great success with lobelias on other islands. The plant responded well and began to produce big violet flowers with white stripes, as well as purple, eggplant-shaped fruit about two to three inches long.
The new fruit were shipped to the University of Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum on Oʻahu, as well as DLNR’s Olinda Rare Plant Facility on Maui. After cutting open the fruit, botanists found that they had thousands of viable seeds to plant. Newly planted individuals were put into the Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve, and so far are doing well in the wild. Plants that were put into the ground in October 2015 are already three to five feet tall and should produce fruit soon. With so many native plants endangered in Hawaii, this success story comes as a pleasant and inspiring surprise. While it is no easy feat to save endangered species, it can certainly be accomplished, even in the direst circumstances. As new seedlings of the cyanea continue to flourish in Kamakou, biologists continue to search the forests of Molokaʻi for older individuals, hoping to expand the plant’s genetic diversity for the future of the species.