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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Botany, an Extreme Sport

Botany, an Extreme Sport

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, April 17, 2019/Categories: natural history, sustainability, art and design, environment, adventure

              Mountaineering Gear Used to Gather Seeds & Restore Endangered Plants, Hawai'i (credit: PEPP)

Who knew botany could be an extreme sport? Some folks will go to extreme lengths to study and conserve an endangered species.

Hawai'i is a 'poster child' for plant extinction and the threats are many: deforestation & habitat destruction; grazing by feral pigs and goats; displacement by noxious weeds including strawberry guava, lantana, and miconia; bacterial and fungal pathogens attacking both avian pollinators and native trees; specimens harvested for the illicit wildlife trade, irresponsible tourists (uprooting silverswords), and climate change now affecting rainfall and weather patterns. Individually and in combination, these stresses have decimated populations of many Hawaiian plants that evolved in environmental isolation. Most native Hawaiian species are completely endemic to the Islands. In one species, Brighamia, only a few individuals were know from cliffs inaccessible to feral goats while another, Hibiscadelphus already thought to be extinct, was recently rediscovered.


Cabbage on a Stick (Brighamia insignis) (photo: U-WI) Rediscovered Hibiscadelphus woodii, Kauai (credit: NTBG)

Hawai'i is also a laboratory for the conservation and restoration of endangered plants. The National Tropical Botanic Garden (NTBG) a member of the Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), is one of the leaders in this dedicated work. The Gardens have been studying, propagating, and restoring endangered plant species for several decades now. Their lead field researcher, Steve Perlman, has been working to prevent further losses and reverse the situation with habitat restoration. The team uses various technologies including seed collection, lab storage, and micro-propagation; nursery stock production from seedlings and tissue culture; aerial drones to locate and map species; and restoring propagated plants into original habitats. Tools more familiar to climbers and mountaineers are often employed during their field activities.

Three short videos illustrate the seed collection and propagation process; video drones for surveys and mapping; and restoration of plants to wild habitats using mountaineering gear:

The work of these botanists might be considered "extreme" by some but in the process they are helping to conserve an ancient ecosystem, one plant at at time. Ecological restoration is difficult work but also fulfilling.



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