Eruptions are pushing 2 native plant species to brink of extinction

By Colt Almodova
HNN Summer Intern

Eruptions in lower Puna aren't just destroying homes and infrastructure. The lava is also threatening the future of at least two native plant species.

State officials say the indigenous plants at highest risk are: The nanawale ha?iwale and the Hilo ischaemum.

The nanawale ha?iwale is a shrub that can only be found in lower Puna, specifically in its wet forest habitat. At last count before the eruption, only 200 of the species' mature shrubs existed in the wild.

Hilo ischaemum, a native grass, is found near coastal environments on multiple Hawaiian Islands, but had previously been impacted by the 1990 eruption at Kamoamoa.

Both of the species were classified as endangered before the eruption — and are now at a critical population decline.

The largest known populations of the two endangered plant species were in the 1,500-acre Malama Ki Forest Reserve, which state officials say was covered with lava and burned by sulfur dioxide gas in June.

In the wake of that destruction, the state says it plans to bolster protections for the two native species and secure collections for planting in other areas.

In addition to the native plants, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said, the eruption destroyed the forest habitats of many native birds. Officials said the losses heighten the need to manage other threats that plague Hawaii's native species, including invasive animals and plants.

Hawaii is home to 45 percent of the nation's threatened and endangered plants.

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