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Red Listed: Capparis sandwichiana

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes the online resource The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, ranking taxa (species, subspecies, or varieties) in one of nine categories from ‘Not Evaluated’ to ‘Extinct.’ The Red List is an invaluable tool for not only scientists, educators, and policy makers, but for anyone seeking a better understanding of the conservation status of plants and animals around the world.

In recent years, conservation agencies, institutions, and organizations including NTBG have redoubled efforts to assess the more than 1,200 native plant taxa in Hawaiʻi. To date, over 500 (approximately 40 percent) have been assessed, reviewed, and published on the Red List. Among these, 266 have been assessed as Critically Endangered, 98 as Endangered, 60 as Vulnerable, and 51 are listed as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild, adding to the more than 20,000 plant taxa published on the Red List worldwide.

capparis sandwichiana

Species: Capparis sandwichiana (maiapilo) (Capparaceae)

Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU)

Capparis sandwichiana, a native Hawaiian caper, is a beautiful shrub found on cliffs, lava flows, emerged coral reefs, and in rocky gulches of coastal areas. It is endemic to several of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Midway, Pearl and Hermes, and Laysan) and the eight main Hawaiian Islands. This species is threatened by non-native plants, goats, rats, fire, sea-level rise, and coastal development. Although the total population numbers in the thousands across its range, subpopulations, and suitable habitat continue to decline.

NTBG staff monitor and collect seed from plants in the wild and curate ex situ conservation collections. Currently, among 51 accessions, over 10,000 seeds are stored in our Seed Bank and Laboratory, 333 plants are growing in our nursery, and 46 individuals are planted out with permanent tags in our Allerton, Kahanu, Limahuli and McBryde Gardens. On Kauaʻi, wild individuals are tagged with unique identifiers to enable consistent monitoring and the ability to link collections back to maternal founders.

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By: Seana Walsh, NTBG Conservation Biologist

This article originally appeared in The Bulletin – NTBG's quarterly magazine for members. Support plant conservation. Click here to become a member now. 

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