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Deep in the heart of Mānoa Valley resides the largest collection of Native Hawaiian seeds in the world, and one of the only places where you can find some of Hawaiʻi’s rarest native plant species.

Seed Lab Manager Marian Chau
Pōpolo Kū Mai (Solanum incompletum), an endangered Native Hawaiian plant

The Seed Conservation Lab is part of the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Lyon Arboretum. The lab stores close to 10 million seeds representing over 550 different species, or about 40 percent of Hawaiʻi’s native plants.

“A lot of these species are endemic to Hawaiʻi, they evolved here in isolation over millions of years, so they’re unique and they’re organisms that are found no where else,” said Tim Kroessig, research support/conservation horticulturalist for the Seed Conservation Lab. The lab conducts crucial research in collecting, preserving and propagating the seeds of Native Hawaiian plant species, many of which are close to extinction.

“We’ll dry the seeds down to the appropriate relative humidity that we’ve determined by our research and then once they’ve dried, usually about a month in the drying chamber then that’s when we would store them,” explained Marian Chau, seed lab manager.

Most of the seeds are stored while some are sown in the lab, where they can be carefully monitored to determine their ability to grow and survive in the wild.

“We’ll have them in our growth chamber for a couple weeks to let them establish, grow some roots and then we’ll transfer them out into the green house” added Kroessig. Matured seedlings can then be out-planted in their native habitat, strengthening the wild population and contributing to healthy forest restoration.

Fruits of labor

“It’s great to know that the work we’re doing here makes a difference and we get to take rare and endangered plants that are endemic to Hawaiʻi and then actually germinate them and put them out back in the wild where they belong,” said Kristyn Schuller, student research assistant.

Recently, the seed lab along with the Plant Extinction Prevention Program participated in a project to help reestablish Cyanea grimesiana subspecies grimesiana, a flowering plant native to Oʻahu and Molokaʻi but thought to be extinct in the wild. Seed samples were successfully collected and propagated at Lyon Arboretum and seedlings were grown to maturity in the greenhouse before the team was finally able to reintroduce the samples back into the wild.

“So we work with some of the rarest of the rare species, things that most people never even get to see or might not even know about and it’s just a real privilege and just a special thing to be able to work with these rare amazing beautiful plants.” said Chau.

View photos on the University of Hawaiʻi Flickr site.

—By Kapiʻolani Ching

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