Rangers from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park rappelled nearly 200 feet into a remote pit crater last week to “rescue” seeds and cuttings from four extremely rare Hawaiian plants in the national park.
The park will use the seeds and cuttings to help reestablish these species.
During the mission, seeds and cuttings from haha (Cyanea stictophylla), a federally endangered shrub found only on Hawai'i Island, were carefully collected. This stunning plant is extremely rare, and in 1996, only 20 plants were estimated to survive in the wild.
Seeds and cuttings from other rare species collected included a species related to haha, Cyanea pilosa, an odorless Hawaiian mint (Phyllostegia sp.), and a native shrub in the African violet family, ha'iwale (Cyrtandra lysiosepala).
Although a 4,000-foot elevation and the steep, sheer walls of the forested pit crater aid in protecting its ecology, those conditions make it challenging to retrieve cuttings and seeds. Two specialized teams from the national park, the Natural Resources Management rappel team and the Search and Rescue team, descended into the crater, retrieved the seeds and cuttings, and returned safely to the surface – a 12-hour mission.
Joining rangers were members of Hawai'i County Fire Department and Pohakuloa Training Area’s fire management team. This enabled the project ample contingency resources in the event of an incident, and fosters interagency cooperation that will be seeds in themselves for future mutual assistance.