Fortini looking at Caly plant
Lucas Fortini at the monitoring station in the Honouliuli Forest Reserve. (Credit: USGS)

Deep in the Honouliuli Forest Reserve, high in Oʻahu‘s Waiʻanae Mountains, a sophisticated monitoring station is being administered by the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa‘s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

What is being watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week? It’s “Caly” (cyanea calycina) or haha in Hawaiian, one of fewer than 200 members of this species left on Oʻahu.

One might imagine that watching a plant grow is like watching paint dry. Not so.

“People don’t think that a plant moves on a daily basis,” explained Susan Ching, Oʻahu botanist for the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife DOFAW. “But with changes in light and rainfall, with time-lapse, you can see leaves perk up or hang down depending on how much rain we’ve had. It’s actually exciting to see how much the plant does move and interact with its environment.”

By accessing the website, Life of Caly: The life of an endangered plant on top of a mountain in Hawaiʻi, viewers can check on the plant’s growth and may one day be able to watch it bloom. The system produces real-time views of Caly and of the broader landscape, and captures storm systems come and go as they pass up and over the Waiʻanae range.

Caly (cyanea calycina), or haha, in Honouliuli Forest Reserve. (Credit: USGS)

Collaboration provides window into life of native plants

The plant cam is a partnership involving the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), UH Mānoa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DLNR/DOFAW.

Lucas Fortini, a research ecologist at the USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, leads the project administered by PBRC.

Fortini said there are two primary research goals. “One is trying to really understand the biology of a lot of these endangered plants that grow nowhere else in the world. It takes a lot of effort to keep them around,” he said. “Second is monitoring to really understand how these plants react to changes in the environment, weather and so forth.”

The monitoring station provides a window into the life of Caly and other native plants and will help researchers determine the best locations for possible relocations.

Last fall Fortini and UH Mānoa geography graduate student Ryan Mudd spent days stringing power and transmission cable from the plant cam and monitoring station almost vertically uphill, through thick underbrush and forest, to the top of a ridge.

Mudd explained, “In addition to the time-lapse loops, people who view the website will be able to see graphs and charts that depict atmospheric conditions around Caly, like temperatures, moisture and light conditions.”

See the video on The Life of Caly.

—By Marcie Grabowski

Ryan Mudd during set-up of the monitoring station. (Credit: USGS)