New roles filled at NTBG

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    Dr. David Lorence, the National Tropical Botanical Garden senior research botanist, is seen in the field studying one of Hawaii’s unique plants, Trematalobelia kauaiensis.

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    The rare ‘olulu, or endangered Brighamia insignis, is known as Kauai’s “cabbage-on-a-stick,” and is one of Dr. Nina Ronsted’s favorite plants, seen here in the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s greenhouse.

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    Dr. Nina Ronsted is the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s new director of science and conservation.

KALAHEO — The National Tropical Botanical Garden recently welcomed Dr. Nina Ronsted as its new director of science and conservation. She succeeds Dr. David H. Lorence, who has worked with the plant conservation organization since 1987 and held the title of director of science and conservation and curator of the herbarium for the past 17 years.

Lorence will continue to work at the nonprofit as its senior research botanist but will now focus on other aspects of tropical botany research, as well as publishing and applying the results — tasks more akin to what he was doing when he first came on board with the organization in the 1980s.

“Now that Dr. Ronsted is taking over as director of the science and conservation department, it will allow me to focus on my taxonomic and floristics research,” Lorence said.

Lorence continues to work for NTBG because it allows him to practice his profession as a plant taxonomist and work with and develop NTBG’s herbarium and living collections.

“And of course live on the beautiful island of Kauai with my family,” he said.

Ronsted shares similar enthusiasm about her line of work and the opportunity to continue her career on Kauai.

“All life depends on plants, and the combination of the rich and unique flora of Hawaii and the expertise and dedication of NTBG in ensuring the survival of plants, ecosystems and cultural knowledge, is truly ideal for finding effective solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time,” she said.

“I hope I can make a significant difference through this job with NTBG, and being able to live on the Garden Island with my family is a dream come true.”

She moved to the island from the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen, where she had held a variety of positions since 2002. She is a botanist who specializes in conservation science and ethnobotany, plant systematics and the evolution of plant diversity.

Ronsted has studied the relationship between people and plants, with an emphasis on medicinal and other “charismatic” plants, according to a press release from NTBG.

Ronsted finds Hawaii’s plants particularly charismatic and unique because they have evolved over millions of years in complete isolation, giving them characteristics unlike any other flora in the world.

She’s already taken a particular liking to the critically endangered ‘olulu, or Brighamia insignis, fondly known as Kauai’s “cabbage-on-a-stick.”

“This is my favorite because, although it’s struggling to survive on the steep cliffs of Kauai and Niihau with the natural pollinator gone, it has also become a beloved ornament internationally,” Ronsted said.


Coco Zickos, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or


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