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Rare plant thought to be extinct discovered on Kamehameha Schools land on Hawai‘i Island

KEAUHOU, North Kona (October 3, 2022) – Kamehameha Schools (KS), the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and Three Mountain Alliance (TMA) today announced the discovery of a small population of Delissea argutidentata, a plant thought to be extinct in the wild.

The three organizations successfully planted 30 keiki plants propagated by the Volcano Rare Plant Facility from seeds retrieved from the small population of this newly-found plant that was detected in early March 2021 by a TMA staff member. The plant was discovered in a crater on KS land in a remote section of ma uka Kona on Hawai‘i Island. The exact location is being kept confidential to protect the plant.

“Kamehameha Schools has been successful at stewarding native ecosystems as a whole but what’s really exciting is that this is the first step toward a much bigger focus on rare species recovery,” KS Senior Natural Resources Manager Amber Nāmaka Whitehead said. “We need both – healthy native ecosystems and every one of our rare species. They are critically important to our Hawaiian cultural identity and our health and well-being as a people.”

The TMA staff member who found the plant was collecting seeds from other plants for use in nearby restoration areas. The population was found growing on a dead māmane stump adjacent to an old enclosure, and appears to consist of three separate plants. Within the enclosure, the remains of a larger individual plant were visible. The discovery is significant because the plant species was previously considered extinct. Over the past year, staff from all three organizations have taken actions to protect the small population of plants and to safekeep its genetics.

“Rediscovery of Delissea is such an important message of hope,” TMA Coordinator Colleen Cole said. “In Hawaiʻi, there is often much focus on loss – loss of species, forest, sacred places – and maybe that is human nature but the Delissea reminds us to always nurture and make room for hope and discovery. This was such an inspirational event that means now we can reintroduce this plant in large numbers to its former range, reminding us to remain hopeful and vigilant.”

Delissea argutidentata was last seen in this area in the early 1970s within three small enclosures fenced by a former tenant. A plant pressing collected from the area in 1971 notes that there were only three plants remaining, the tops of all the plants were damaged – presumably by cattle – and there was no regeneration, likely due to the dense grass. The forward-thinking and installation of protective fencing are key attributes to the species’ persistence in an area highly modified by previous pastoral usage.