Park Rangers Rescue Endangered Plants

It’s not always lost or injured hikers who get rescued by park rangers.

Image shows the pit cater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where the endangered plant search and rescue mission occurred June 26, 2013. NPS Photo/Mark Wasser

Image shows the pit cater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where the endangered plant search and rescue mission occurred June 26, 2013. NPS Photo/Mark Wasser

Rangers from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park rappelled nearly 200 feet into a remote pit crater last week to “rescue” seeds and cuttings from four extremely rare Hawaiian plants in the national park. The park will use the seeds and cuttings to help reestablish these species.

During the mission, seeds and cuttings from hāhā (Cyanea stictophylla), a federally endangered shrub found only on Hawai‘i Island, were carefully collected. This stunning plant is extremely rare, and in 1996, only 20 plants were estimated to survive in the wild.

NPS Photo/Jon Maka'ike

NPS Photo/Jon Maka’ike

Seeds and cuttings from other rare species collected included a species related to hāhā, Cyanea pilosa, an odorless Hawaiian mint (Phyllostegia sp.), and a native shrub in the African violet family, ha‘iwale (Cyrtandra lysiosepala).

Although a 4,000-foot elevation and the steep, sheer walls of the forested pit crater aid in protecting its ecology, those conditions make it challenging to retrieve cuttings and seeds. Two specialized teams from the national park, the Natural Resources Management rappel team and the Search and Rescue team, descended into the crater, retrieved the seeds and cuttings, and returned safely to the surface – a 12-hour mission.

Plants shown is closeup of Cyanea stictophylla flowering. This individual was collected from the Pit Crater a few years ago, and has been growing in a park greenhouse since. It flowered and fruited this year. NPS Photo/Mark Wasser

Plants shown is closeup of Cyanea stictophylla flowering. This individual was collected from the Pit Crater a few years ago, and has been growing in a park greenhouse since. It flowered and fruited this year. NPS Photo/Mark Wasser

Joining rangers were members of Hawai‘i County Fire Department and Pōhakuloa Training Area’s fire management team. This enabled the project ample contingency resources in the event of an incident, and fosters interagency cooperation that will be seeds in themselves for future mutual assistance.

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