‘Important Message of Hope’ Made by Re-Planting Extinct Tree Species on Hawaii

Discovering Delissea argutidentata – Kamehameha Schools

While on a seed gathering trip atop a Hawai’ian mountain in 2021, conservationists found a tree species believed extinct in the wild since since 1992.

This month, teams from the organizations that found it went up to the same area and planted 30 seedlings born from the fruits of the plants they found, growing hope that this species can recover to repopulate the Hawai’ian Islands.

Delissea argutidentata is just one of two remaining species of the Delissea genus, a Hawai’i native that has lost 14 other species.

Palm-like in its appearance, it belongs to a family known as Hawai’ian lobelioids, and can grow to 35-feet (10.2 meters) with a thick head of long narrow leaves. They used to be found growing under the shade of giant koa trees in volcanic craters.

Three Mountain Alliance, an organization that works to repopulate endangered Hawai’ian plant species, found the individual on a survey on Kamehameha Schools land, and later propagated 30 seedlings at their Volcano Rare Plant Facility.

They fenced off the area until February of 2022, when they returned to harvest the fruit a second time, which they shipped off to cold storage for additional security. They also found two new wild-growing seedlings.

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“Kamehameha Schools has been successful at stewarding native ecosystems as a whole but what’s really exciting is that this is the first step toward a much bigger focus on rare species recovery,” KS Senior Natural Resources Manager Amber Nāmaka Whitehead said.

“We need both—healthy native ecosystems and every one of our rare species. They are critically important to our Hawaiian cultural identity and our health and well-being as a people.”

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Maui Now reports that there is no Hawai’ian name for the plant, although given their similarity to another of the Hawai’ian lobelias, the Cyanea, they could also have been called Hāhā.

“Rediscovery of Delissea is such an important message of hope,” TMA Coordinator Colleen Cole said. “In Hawaiʻi, there is often much focus on loss: loss of species, forest, sacred places—and maybe that is human nature but the Delissea reminds us to always nurture and make room for hope and discovery.”

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