Lecture Tuesday to focus on rarest of Hawaiian plants

LIHUE — National Tropical Botanical Garden and Kauai Community College will host a free public lecture about the rarest of Hawaii’s endangered native plants Tuesday.

“Plants on the Brink of Extinction” begins at 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at the KCC Campus Center and features Joan Yoshioka, statewide coordinator for the Plant Extinction Prevention Program, who will discuss PEP plants — those species with fewer than 50 known individuals remaining in the wild.

“These are the rarest of the rare,” she said. “And there’s a whole slew of them.”

Statewide, there are 235 PEP species, including about 80 on Kauai, according to Yoshioka.

Owing to its isolation from large land masses and unique geographic history, the Hawaiian Islands are a biological hotspot, with some of the world’s greatest biodiversity found among its native plants — roughly 90 percent of which grow nowhere but here, according to a release.  

The island of Kauai has the greatest concentration of rare, native plants and single-island endemics. Nearly 40 percent of all PEP plants now grow or once grew here.

“That’s just the nature of Kauai being older and much more diverse,” Yoshioka said.

According to the Bishop Museum, about 100 plant species in Hawaii are known to have gone extinct since the time of European contact. Scientists estimate that over half of Hawaii’s 1,200 native species are at risk of extinction, and more than 200 of those species are the focus of the PEP program, which works closely with many partners across the state, including NTBG.

While rare plants will be the focus of Tuesday’s lecture, Yoshioka said she “can’t really talk about how rare they are without talking about what people are doing to save them.”

“Folks put their lives at risk every day to do what they can,” she said.

The Plant Extinction Prevention Program’s mission is to protect Hawaii’s rarest native plants from extinction by managing wild plants, collecting seeds and establishing new populations, according to its website.

“We really don’t call a species extinct until we’re confident it’s been well searched for, and the habitat can no longer support the species,” said Yoshioka, adding that usually occurs 20 years after the last individual has been observed.

Yoshioka has spent over 20 years doing conservation work in Hawaii, including for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy.

Tuesday’s event is the second installment in the “Around the World of Plants” lecture series, one of many collaborations between NTBG and KCC.

For information on the institutions, visit their respective websites at www.ntbg.org and kauai.hawaii.edu.

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