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Lyon Arboretum Receives Prestigious Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant

Critical Rare Plant Conservation Project Awarded $50,000

University of Hawaiʻi
Nellie Sugii, (808) 988-0470
Lyon Arboretum
Kristen Cabral, (808) 956-5039
Public Information Officer
Posted: Nov 19, 2002

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, a research unit of the University of Hawaiʻi, is the recipient of a $50,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in Washington, D.C. Lyon Arboretum‘s entry for its "Rare Hawaiʻi Plant Program" in the Conservation Project Support category was among 216 proposals reviewed by 74 museum and conservation professionals.

IMLS is a federal grant-making agency that promotes leadership, innovation, and a lifetime of learning by supporting the nation‘s museums and libraries. The IMLS Conservation Project Support program awards matching grants to help museums identify conservation needs and priorities and perform activities to ensure the safekeeping of their collections.

"Supporting the conservation of the vast and varied collections in our nation‘s museums is central to the mission of the Institute of Museum and Library Services," remarked IMLS Director Robert S. Martin. "It is especially rewarding to make these conservation grants during the year that we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Museum Services Act — the legislation that created a federal agency to support the nation‘s museums."

Lyon Arboretum‘s "Rare Hawaiʻi Plant Program" seeks to expand the scope of micropropagation as a tool in the recovery and storage of Hawaiʻi‘s most critically endangered plant taxa. Micropropagation has been found to be essential in situations where conventional greenhouse methods have been unsuccessful. Due to the uniqueness of Hawaiʻi‘s native species, standardized protocols and propagation techniques are virtually non-existent and must be developed in-house on a case-by-case basis as specimens are received.

Lyon Arboretum is a permanent repository for more than 5,000 living plant taxa, including some of the world‘s most important and, in some cases, only living collections of certain tropical plants. Currently, the Lyon Arboretum Micropropagation Laboratory is the recipient of the Hawaiian endemic plant specimens earmarked for micropropagation, and receives approximately 560 plant submissions comprised of about 136 species annually.

The program will focus on five Hawaiian woody plant species: alani (Melicope knudsenii), mÁhamehame (Flueggea neowawraea), hau kuahiwi (Hibiscadelphus woodii), kokiʻo (Kokia cookei), and kanaloa (Kanaloa kahoolawensis). The United States Fish and Wildlife Services considers these five species to be among the most threatened and endangered species, and in imminent danger of becoming extinct if no immediate action of recovery is taken.

The alani has only four wild individual plants remaining, with three isolated wild populations known of on Kauaʻi and a single wild individual barely surviving in East Maui. There are less than 50 plants left of the mÁhamehame on the islands of Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Maui and the Big Island. The hau kuahiwi is a recent discovery and was named a unique species in 1991. Originally, this discovery consisted of four plants, but now only two remain with one plant in decline. To date, all propagation attempts used on the hau kuahiwi have failed.

The kanaloa exist within a single population located on the island of Kahoʻolawe. This species was once thought to be prevalent on all islands, but now only two non-fruiting wild individuals, which are in declining health, and two cultivated seedlings remain. All propagation attempts on this species have also failed. The kokiʻo is extinct in the wild as the last remaining tree was destroyed by a fire in the early 1970s. Before the fire destroyed the tree, cuttings were made and later grafted on to the rootstock of two related kokia species (which are also rare and endangered). This species continues to flower and seed but 100 percent of the embryos abort before they reach maturity.

The "Rare Hawaiʻi Plant Program" is directed by Lyon Arboretum horticulturist Nellie Sugii. Her duties include the management of the Micropropagation Laboratory and the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program. In addition, she also serves as the curator of Hawaiian plants.


The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is an independent organized research unit within the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Originally established by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association in 1918, the Arboretum encompasses 193.5 acres within Mānoa Valley on Oʻahu.

Lyon Arboretum boasts one of the largest palm collections in any botanical garden, and major collections of Native Hawaiian, ethnobotanical (Hawaiian, Pacific and Asian), tropical (ginger, aroid, heliconia, ti, ficus and calathea), and economic plants (various herb, various spice, tea, coffee and cocoa), as well as many others. Its major research emphases are on developing new plants suitable for Hawaiian gardens, and on utilizing micropropagation techniques in rescuing endangered Hawaiian plants.

According to the "Manual of the Flowering Plant of Hawaiʻi," the native flora of Hawaiʻi represents some of the most unique, diverse and rarest plants in the world. With approximately 1,000 Native Hawaiian species of flowering plants, 90 percent are considered to be endemic or unique to Hawaiʻi and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, Hawaiʻi has also been given the dubious title of the "Endangered Species Capital of the World," with approximately one third of all the United States‘ federally endangered and threatened (289 endangered and 11 threatened) plant taxa. Another 25 percent (approximately 300) are significantly depleted enough to be listed as species of concern.

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