Hawaii Volcanoes Goes To Edge and Beyond for Science
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers went to great lengths recently in the interest of preserving rare species.
Great lengths down, that is.
Two teams last week rappelled nearly 200 feet down the sheer sides of a pit crater to collect seeds and cuttings from four extremely rare plants.
One of the targets was the haha (Cyanea stictophylla), a federally endangered shrub found only on the Big Island. This plant with distinctive purple flowers is extremely rare, with a 1996 survey indicating only 20 specimens alive in the wild.
Park officials said examples of haha were collected from the same pit crater several years ago and have been since growing in a park greenhouse where this year they flowered and fruited.
Others collected were haha relative Cyanea pilosa, an odorless Hawaiian mint (Phyllostegia sp.) and ha`iwale (Cyrtandra lysiosepala), a native shrub in the African violet family.
The steep walls of the forested pit crater and its remote location at the 4,000-foot elevation near Kilauea volcano’s summit help protecting the fragile ecology in which these plants grow.
But they also make it challenging to retrieve examples to help re-establish the species. Last week’s venture took 12 hours to complete.
One of the specialized teams taking part was from the park’s search and rescue squad while the other was the natural resources management rappel team.
They were joined by members of Hawai‘i Fire Department and Pōhakuloa Training Area’s fire management team. The result was fostering improved interagency cooperation as well as the presence of additional resources in case anything went wrong.