U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — On this Valentine’s Day, love was in the air at the U.S. Army’s Natural Resources Program, here, as biologists offered a matchmaking hand to Oahu’s endangered plants – literally.
Many threatened and endangered plants have been unlucky in love. They haven’t been able to find a perfect match and reproduce on their own.
Disease, habitat loss, predatory rodents and environmental change are just a few of the obstacles Hawaii’s special plants face.
The decline of many of the plants’ original matchmakers – native bird pollinators – has also been a huge obstacle, according to Kapua Kawelo, a biologist with U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii’s Oahu Natural Resources Program.
Kawelo and the Army’s Natural Resources Program work to ensure the survival of threatened and endangered species on Army installations and training areas in Hawaii.
“We do a lot of field studies and research, and we’ve found that our native plants just aren’t successful reproducing anymore. They need help,” Kawelo said.
One native mint plant in particular, the Stenogyne kanehoana, has been terribly unlucky in love. In fact, it practically went extinct in the wild and was almost lost forever, due in large part to the loss of its original
pollinator, the ‘I’iwi, a Hawaiian honeycreeper bird.
“The ‘I’iwi bird has a distinct hooked beak that fits the blossom of the mint like a hand to a glove,” Kawelo said. “With those birds becoming fewer and fewer in number, the plants need a different hand.”
According to Kawelo, approximately 20 percent of the threatened and endangered plants the Army manages in Hawaii have lost their bird pollinators.
“We’re getting creative and giving these plants a hand because they can’t get it done on their own,” Kawelo added. “As part of our military training mission, we have a responsibility to ensure their survival.”
Tools of the Matchmaking Trade
So how does one create plant love?
The true matchmaking begins when matchmakers (Army biologists) hand-pollinate plants in need. Army biologists use different tools like eyebrow brushes to delicately collect pollen from various types of plants in both the greenhouse and in the forest.
Love knows no bounds when Army biologists are involved in matchmaking.
“In certain plant species, male and female plants may be miles away from each other, making pollination difficult, so we may collect pollen from a particular male plant and hand-pollinate a female plant miles away,” Kawelo said.
Everlasting love – how to make it last
Finding a match is just part of the story. The next goal is raising offspring and keeping the family name going.
As “keiki” seeds are produced after hand-pollination, the Natural Resources staff collect them for safekeeping in the Army’s seed conservation laboratory on Schofield Barracks.
The seed lab is one of only four of its kind in Hawaii, and houses millions of potential offspring.
The lab’s climate-controlled refrigerators can replicate ideal lighting and temperature environments for the young keiki to grow. Other seeds are stored in vacuum-sealed pouches in case they’re needed down the road, similar in way to human seed banks.
“Some of the seeds in the lab are as old as 15-years,” Kawelo said. “They’re critical to the future of native species of plants should something devastating happen to the population in the wild.
Once the young keiki get big enough, they’re moved to an Army greenhouse, and eventually planted back in the wild.
Match success stories
Through hand-pollination, cultivation and reintroduced planting, successful love matches are on the rise. Here are just a few of the Army’s Oahu Natural Resources Program success stories:
- Hawaiian mint (Stenogyne kanehoana): In 2001, there were no known plants in the wild. Today, there are more than 500 plants in the Waianae mountain range.
- Hesperomannia oahuensis: In 2001, there were 21 remaining plants in the wild. Today, there are more than 300 plants in the Waianae mountain range.
- Mehamehame (Flueggea neowawrae): In 2001, there were 39 known male and female trees spread across the Waianae mountain range. Today, there are more than 700 plants.
- Kamakahala (Labordia cyrtandra): In 2001, there were only 100 known plants in the wild. Today, there are more than 700 plants in the Waianae and Koolau mountain ranges.
For more information about the Army’s local Natural Resources Programs, visit https://www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil/sustainability/NaturalResources.aspx.
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii’s Oahu Natural Resources Program is charged with balancing the requirements of the Army’s training mission with its natural resource responsibilities. Currently, the program manages more than 100 plants, snails, birds, bats and insects, as well as the critical habitats these species call home.