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Sam Champine-Tocher transferring micropropagated plants in a sterile hood.

Lyon Arboretum’s Hawaiian Rare Plant Program (HRPP) has been awarded a $114,000 national grant to help preserve a plant collection of native Hawaiian species, most of which are endangered, at the program’s Micropropagation Laboratory in Mānoa Valley. The laboratory is the only facility in Hawaiʻi that serves as a rescue, recovery and storage unit for the conservation of critically endangered Hawaiian plants.

The grant to the laboratory, under the direction of Nellie Sugii, is from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Museums for America-Collections Stewardship Project.

Since the program began in 1993, tens of thousands of native plants have been propagated and maintained in their collections, most of them endangered species. Today, there are nearly 250 native species in the collection, some of which no longer occur in the wild. HRPP is recognized internationally for its research and leadership in this area.

”The native flora of Hawaiʻi is the most unique and imperiled in the world, and it takes cutting-edge horticultural technology like micropropagation—or the growing of tiny plants in test tubes—to save and conserve these rare plants,” said Sugii.

Flower of haha (Cyanea grimesiana ssp. grimesiana).
Kroessig and Sporck-Koehler kneeling next to a sapling.
Tim Kroessig (HRPP) and Margaret Sporck-Koehler (State Botanist) with an outplanted haha.

HRPP works closely with Laukahi: The Hawaiʻi Plant Conservation Network, which represents a broad consortium of over a dozen federal, state and private partners.

For the next two years, HRPP staff and student research assistants and consultants from Laukahi will complete inventories of the collection, determine the source location for each accession, interview conservation groups about their needs for plants in the coming years and draft action plans to guide plant restoration to natural sites.

Restoring Hawaiʻi’s plants

Critical to this effort is the keeping of accurate and consistent data on the plants. HRPP and its conservation partners have developed and refined data formats, which clearly record the genealogical history and propagation methodology of the plants in the program’s collection, thereby ensuring their value in restoration, propagation and breeding strategies for field biologists and land managers.

Previous efforts to review and update the curation of the collection have resulted in significant discoveries. Among plants from Oʻahuhaha (Cyanea grimesiana ssp. grimesiana) is considered to be extinct in the wild, and another species of haha (Cyanea truncata) has only a single plant remaining. These plants were collected by various individuals and groups over multiple years, resulting in confused histories.

Once the collection history and provenance were sorted out, these collections were incorporated into ongoing restoration efforts. Collections from HRPP of both haha species have been restored into secured sites, and are again flowering, fruiting and producing viable seeds in the wild.

Plant collection gets new home

The $114,000 grant is especially timely and critically important for HRPP, as the program prepares to move its collection to a new facility by the end of the year. The new structure is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed this summer.

It will provide more space for research and collections, and increase opportunities for student education and training in the processes of restoration of Hawaiian plants and ecosystems in jeopardy.

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