Field Trip: A visit to a rare plant nursery


On our last seminar to Hawai‘i Island, we had the special privilege to visit a rare plant nursery on Hawai‘i Island — the location is strictly kept a secret because of vandalism and theft — to see the efforts of horticulturalist extraordinaire Patty Moriyasu and her staff to save plants native to the island.

This facility is part of a statewide program to prevent native plant extinctions by propagation and out planting.

It’s an amazing place with 146 threatened and endangered plant species, 24 of which are already considered extinct in the wild.

Though various methods of plant propagation and by maintaining a gene bank of plants and seeds, this group has successfully increased these plant numbers.

IMG_0584Moriyasu is a miracle worker of sorts. For example, Clermontia peleana — a rare species of flowering plant in the bellflower family that’s known as ‘oha wai and is endemic to Hawai‘i Island — was thought to be extinct. Yet, a plant was cultivated from a seed in this collection. Today, there are dozens of this plant growing in the wild from the outplantings.

We toured the facility — composed of several greenhouses — and got to see the various rare plants, some of which are only found here.

IMG_0574One that stood out is the Mauna Loa Silverswords, or ‘āhinahina (shown here). This extraordinary plant survives only on the flanks of Mauna Loa between 5,000 and 8,000 feet elevation. They are different from other species found — most popularly — on the slopes of Haleakalā, growing fewer “petals” in their flowerheads and with thinner leaves that are less hairy. Foraging ungulates, like cattle, sheep and goats, love to eat this plant and, by the early 1990s, the entire species was limited to a handful of plants at three remote sites on the volcano.

Moriyasu and her staff have already out-planted more than 35,000 Mauna Loa Silverswords at four main sites on the island. Recovery is underway!

It was inspiring to see what leadership, innovation and rolled-up sleeves can do!

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