Saving Hawaii’s Endemic Plants, One Seed at a Time

In September, the US Fish and Wildlife Service appointed the Phyllostegia glabra, a member of the mint family that has grown in the rain forests of Lāna’i, as if extinct to extinction.

It’s a familiar story in the islands, where about 44% of the country’s endangered and threatened plant species live a precarious existence. Scientists believe that the isolation that has allowed so many unique species to thrive here has also made them vulnerable to changes in the ecosystem.

Today, about 90% of Hawaii’s flora is found nowhere else, says Tim Chambers, Rare Plants Program Manager for the Army’s Natural Resources Program in O’ahu, in partnership with the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. About 10% of Hawaii’s native flora have already been lost and more than 30% are endangered, he says.

The Army Seed Lab at Schofield Barracks is working to stem the loss by maintaining a permanent stockpile of scarce seeds, both to serve as “a kind of long-term Noah’s Ark.” as Chambers says, and to propagate more plants. It currently houses 22,482,131 seeds.

To obtain them, field crews scour the Wai’anae Mountains in search of rare plants, traversing both Army lands and surrounding areas owned by the State, Board of Water Supply, and Kamehameha Schools. . A twin program is taking place in the Army’s Pōhakuloa training area on the island of Hawai’i.

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

The seeds are laboriously extract, counted and weighed by the hand, here by the head of the Makanani Akiona laboratory. They spend a month in dry rooms, a low humidity environment that naturally excerpts seeds’ the water without using damaging Heat.

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Then it is placed in freezers for storage, sometimes for 20 years or more. Most seeds are stored at normal freezing temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius, but some require even cooler temperatures to remain viable, -80 degrees to -196 degrees Celsius.

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

The seeds are regularly taken out of the freezers to germinate in the lab’s grow rooms, which mimic day and night, as well as the temperatures the plants prefer.

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

here, tiny sowing have germinateed in a clear agar gel Petri dish. Theyou are beautiful then moved with tweezers to an artificial soil container, where they become sturdy Schiedea trinervis, a endangered member of the carnation family find only on Ka’ala, the Waianae Vary‘s highest peak.

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Once they become more resistant, these varieties and others are transported to greenhouses or returned to the wild. About 2,000 endangered plants are replanted each year, along with 11,000 common plants.

The seed lab is also working to reclaim habitat, protecting plants from rodents, snails, and other hungry creatures. Kapua Kawelo, head of the Army Garrison’s Hawai’i Natural Resources Program, says one of the program’s early successes was saving the CYanea Superba of extinction.

In 1995, two years after the start of the seed program, only five of the trees remained, whose Hawaiian name is haha. “We controlled the predators, secured the fruits and cultivated the plants for replanting,” says Kawelo. Now thousands are growing. “The military is really an important player in Hawai’i for the conservation of natural resources, especially plant conservation,” she said.

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