Friday, January 24, 2014

Ka palupalu o Kanaloa

Meet Kanaloa kahoolawensis, a critically endangered species recognized under the US Endangered Species Act  and the only of its kind found in the wild.

Discovered in 1992 by the botanists Ken Wood and Steve Perlman of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the single remaining plant grows on the cliffs of Ale'ale Pu'uloae on a sea stack off the coast of Kaho'olawe. Two specimens, grown from seed of the wild plant, live in propagation facilities on Maui: Ho`olawa Farms (Haiku) and Maui Nui Botanical Garden (Kahului).

Transplanted into a large redwood box in 2009, the plant specimen at Maui Nui Botanical Garden produced roots that go all the way through the container, with flowers and pollen samples collected and stored. (Read Maui writer Shannon Wianecki's brief overview here).

On Saturday, November 2, 2013, Hawaiian cultural practitioner, Kumu Hula, and Maui Nui Botanical Gardens Board member, Kapono`ai Molitau, gave an awe-inspiring blessing for the Kanaloa kahoolaweensis tree located at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens.  He performed an oli which called upon the Hawaiian deities of Kanaloa, Kāne, Lono, Kū and others to bring protection and blessings to the critically endangered plant and to encourage its growth.  The oli lasted for several minutes as he circled the new planter box and chanted with a  powerful voice that brought a profound feeling of positivity to the immediate area.  During the ceremony, Kapono`ai was accompanied by one of his sons, MNBG Garden Manager, Tamara Sherrill, and MNBG Executive Director, Joylynn Paman.  The chant was spiritually moving for those who were present and the positive mana that was felt from the oli and from being in the presence of such an incredible plant, was a reminder of our kuleana to do all that we can for the survival of Kanaloa and the enduring symbol that this plant is for the island of Kaho`olawe. – (Update offered by Maui Nui Botanical Garden Executive Director Joylynn Paman)

On the brink of extinction since its discovery in 1992, Kanaloa kahoolawensis is in danger from random stochastic events such as high winds, tsunami, hurricane, landslides, drought and fire, due to extremely small population numbers. While these random events simply cannot be prevented, motivating local propagation facilities will help to preserve this critically endangered native Hawaiian plant. Only diligence and a constant effort to propagate plants will help bring this endangered plant back into the lowland dry to mesic ecosystems it used to inhabit.

To support these efforts and the Restoration Program of the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission, visit

Every bit helps!

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