Little known is the story of the Polyscias bisattenuata (`ohe`ohe) a critically endangered member of the Araliaceae (Ivy family) endemic to the island of Kauai. With fewer than 60 individuals in the wild, an incredible rescue effort is underway. In the last year, NTBG botanists, interns, volunteers and supporters like you have come together to make huge strides in saving this species. It is a story that must be told and we need your help to share it and make an impact. Meet the plant champions giving a voice and new hope to Polyscias bisattenuata and raise yours by making a donation now.
Endemic to Kauai, Polyscias bisattenuata is critically endangered with fewer than 60 trees in 7 known populations in the wild.
Since 2016, NTBG botanists and interns have collected 55,000 seeds and added 50 accessions to NTBG living collections.
To date, more than 6,000 Polyscias bisattenuata plants have been grown and 3,800 have been outplanted.
During the fall of 2016, Natalia, an NTBG Living Collections Botanist and Field Collector, struck “botanical gold” when she discovered 34 Polyscias bisattenuata trees in five populations among the steep slopes and forest ridges of Mt. Haupu and Mt. Kahili on Kauai. Like many native plants in Hawaii, Polyscias bisattenuata is subject to predation by rodents and threatened by pollinator and habitat loss. Preserving its vulnerable fruit and seeds from predators is a challenge and critical to conservation efforts. But no conservation challenge is too great when you have volunteers! Meet the seamstresses.
NTBG is fortunate to have a talented group of volunteer crafters who support the garden through the sale of artisan goods. When volunteers Maryanne Nordwall and Joanne Watson (pictured) heard about the plight of the Polysicas bisattenuata they offered to design and sew rodent-resistant bags to protect the precious fruit. They experimented with different materials eventually settling on woven plastic mesh sand bags that were, flexible and most importantly, unappealing to pests. Volunteers sewed more than 100 bags which protected the fruit until it reached maturity and was able to be harvested.
Rodents at bay and fruit matured, NTBG intern, Randy Umetsu from the Honolulu-based KUPU program, worked in the field with Natalia to collect fruit from the wild populations of Polyscias bisattenuata. Next began the monumental task of squeezing out the seeds from the thousands of fruits to be cleaned, sorted, counted and potted. Incredibly, Randy and Natalia collected approximately 55,000 seeds and added 50 accessions to the Garden’s living collections.
NTBG Nursery Manager, Ashly Trask, knew that rodent predators would still need to be kept away from the precious seeds stored in the nursery. Nursery staff, volunteers and interns not only cleaned and sorted seeds, but also hand-built protective cages for the potted plants. Before long the nursery was a sea of bright green seedlings! Nearly 80% of the seeds collected survived and since fall 2016 NTBG has grown more than 6,000 Polyscias bisattenuata plants!
With so many seeds, the question arises: Can these seeds be stored for later planting? Seed storage behavior for Polyscias bisattenuata remains unknown but NTBG’s Seed Bank and Laboratory manager, Dustin Wolkis, will continue to test the seeds’ ability to withstand cold and dry storage conditions.