‘Ōhi‘a are the most abundant, ecologically important and culturally significant plants in Hawai‘i. They provide food and shelter for native animals and endangered forest birds, facilitates healthy soil development, aid in replenishing aquifers, and are prominent in many Hawaiian stories, songs and chants.
In 2013, residents of Hawai‘i Island began noticing healthy trees dying in a matter of weeks. The phenomenon was termed Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) and is caused by two species of fungi. ROD has affected more than 135,000 acres of native forest on Hawai‘i Island, and one of the fungal pathogens was found on Kaua‘i in 2018.
Experts across the state of Hawai‘i have formulated a ROD strategic response plan and National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) is part of the team collecting, banking and reciprocating seeds with other labs to collect and store geographically and genetically diverse plant material as a “genetic safety net” and may provide material for studying resistance to the diseases. Staff and volunteers at the NTBG Seed Bank and Laboratory are collecting, cleaning and counting seeds, measuring mass, conducting viability experiments, desiccating, labeling and tracking data that will provide the research and plant material needed for restoration of this important species.