Kilauea eruption destroys endangered shrub, grass

Two of the largest known populations of endangered native Hawaiian plants have been destroyed by the Kilauea eruption, reported the state Department of Land and Natural Resources on Tuesday.

The 1,514-acre Malama Ki Forest Reserve was consumed by lava and the surrounding plant life suffocated by toxic fumes in June. The reserve was one of the only known native homes to two endangered plant species, the Nanawale ha‘iwale and the Hilo ischaemum.

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The Nanawale ha‘iwale is a shrub only found in the lowland wet forests of Puna. Before the eruption, only 200 mature plants existed in the wild; more than one-third of these were destroyed by lava.

Hilo ischaemum is a native grass found mostly along the coast between Hilo and Puna. While only a few thousand plants were thought to survive in the wild, many of the grass’ known sites are now buried by lava.

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According to a news release, the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife will salvage ha‘iwale specimens from other sites to ensure the species is not lost to extinction, while protections for both species will be increased and collections of both will be secured for outplanting into other protected areas.

Nearly one-third of all of Hawaii’s native plants are listed as threatened or endangered.