Today was our second day with our hosts from the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s (NTBG) Allerton site. We met Tim Flynn, the Herbarium Collections Manager, as the garden offices opened on a warm and clear morning. Tim began working at the herbarium in 1981 when the entire collection was held in only three file cabinets. Currently, the collection has around 50,000 specimens and it is continually growing. There are three full-time plant collectors at NTBG who spend the majority of their time collecting within the state of Hawai’i. However, their attention has been shifting to other tropical regions of the world, one reason being that state regulations for collecting rare and endangered species are becoming more restricted.
We were also joined by Amanda Vernon who came to NTBG for a two month internship in 2006 and like many interns, found it difficult to leave. For the past year she has been working as the Seed Project Manager creating a photographic database for The Flora of the Hawai’ian Islands, to be published online by the Smithsonian Institution.
Tim and Amanda led us on an field excursion to Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park to experience plants in Hawai’ian ecosystems. Our first stop of many provided a native Waltheria of which Tim and Amanda needed a seed sample. Tim got his specimen kit and took some quick notes while Amanda collected seed. Shortly after the collection process began, we were once again headed to our destination with a new specimen shrub being pressed and dried in the trunk.
Tim provided us with great insight into the plant life as we advanced up the mountain; of interest were the native Koa trees. In order to reestablish this population, the state collected seeds from all over the area, mixed them in a barrel, then spread the seeds. We were all amazed by a unique feature of this tree. What appeared to us as leaves were actually phyllodes, or flattened, leaf-like branches which aid in the prevention of moisture loss.
While the Koa population seemed to be effectively increasing, not every effort to bring back traditional plant communities was working quite as successfully. At a stop on the Kukui Trail, part of the Na Ala Hele Hawai’i Trail & Access System, we learned of an unsuccessful conservation effort involving lantana plants, since many were growing invasively along the trail. While treated as an annual ornamental near the University of Delaware, in tropical regions such a Hawai’i, this plant is highly invasive. On other Hawai’ian islands, a foliage-eating weevil has become as a successful biocontrol for lantana, but this has not been the case on the island of Kaua’i.
Our travels continued to the Waimea Canyon Lookout. Tim explained that the State of Hawai’i is trying to educate the public about the benefits of using native plant species in the landscape. One of the ways that they are doing this is through the removal of non-native ornamentals in public areas such as parking lots. After enjoying the amazing views at 3,400 feet, we continued our journey to Koke’e State Park. This popular tourist destination was enhanced by a native plant trail; yet another example of the state reaching out to educate the public about their native plant efforts.
At the park, we were lucky enough to run into Sherri and Augusto, two Department of Forestry and Wildlife employees. We were invited to visit a ten-acre preservation area under their management. This was the Department’s high elevation preservation site, and was planted with native, rare, and endangered species grown from seeds and cuttings. The site was completely fenced in seven years ago to keep goats, pigs, and other trespassers off of the property.
The ascent ended at the mountain’s peak at the Pihea Trail, which supplied a fantastic view of the valley and Pacific Ocean below. The return to NTBG gave us time to reflect upon the many lessons we were able to take away from this extraordinary opportunity.