Botanists introduce native plants back to the wild, say seeds aren’t sufficient for sustaining future generations

Written by: 
Danna Osumo

Hawaii plant specialists said they hope to revive up to 1,400 native plant species that were once extinct in the wild, according to the Star Advertiser.

Susan Ching, Oahu coordinator for the Plant Extinction Prevention Program, and member of the University of Hawaii faculty, showed several endangered plants at a news conference at UH. An example included the Hawaiian Haiwale, a shrub of the African violet family with fewer than 25 plants living only in the Ko’olau Range on Oahu.

“The rare plants you see here once were common,” she said. “They’re representative of the fact the ecosystem is slowly being degraded one species at a time.” Ching said rare species in Hawaiian native forests are significant because they interact with native species, including some insects that rear their young only on the rare native plants.

One of these endangered plants include the cliff face catchfly, also known as the Silene perlmanii, which is found in the Waianae Mountain Range, according to Ching.

Botanist Steve Perlman told to the Star Advertiser he discovered the plant almost 30 years ago but by 1994, only one remained. “None were seen in the wild from 2001 until conservationists began planting the shrub in the mountain range,” said Perlman.

Over the past three or four years, more than 100 cliff-face catchfly have been grown in nurseries and planted in the Waianae Mountains, said Ching. She added how this year specialists have about 100 plants they will “out-plant” in the mountains possibly starting in October.

Ruci Sekitoga, an international cultural studies sophomore from Fiji, was surprised to know there were so many endangered plants. “Sometimes, we take for granted the beauty of nature and don’t see how our actions can affect them,” said Sekitoga. She hoped “out-planting” can be a success so we can “keep enjoying nature in the future.”

Ching said with even 1000 out-plantings, “you aren’t out of the woods until you’re out of regeneration of those seedlings back in the wild and it does take decades sometimes.”
She said more resources are needed for saving native plants, especially because her organization endured federal funding cuts this year by about 40 percent and could face more cuts next year.

Lee Yi Hong, a sophomore studying business from Singapore, said the best thing about living in Hawaii was the nature. “That is something Hawaii residents should try to protect,” said Lee. He added how he participated in helping the environment by helping in their GE class in restoration projects or beach cleaning. “I enjoy helping the environment knowing I can make a difference,” he said.

Lara Reynolds, Oahu district botanist for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said about 200 of Hawaii’s 1,400 native plant species are threatened or endangered and face threats from human activity and invasive species.

Reynolds said the division collects seeds of rare and common native plants for out-plantings because both help foster a healthy native forest and aid in the recovery of native birds, insects and snails. She said species need to be replanted in their native habitat because seeds are viable for only a few years. “Seeds just buy us time,” she said.

Sarah Acobera, a freshman in psychology from the Philippines, said she understands her responsibility to take care of plants because “plants provide necessary sustenance for us to survive.”

“A Hawaiian term I learned in my GE class that I think perfectly answers this question is malama 'aina, which means that we need to take care of the land so that it can helps us sustain life for future generations to come,” continued Acobera.

Date Published: 
Monday, September 19, 2016
Last Edited: 
Monday, September 19, 2016