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Researchers battle Rapid Ohia Death with 2M seeds banked so far

Updated: Jun. 1, 2017 at 10:32 PM HST
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Ohia seeds are small, golden colored bits that are tedious to collect. (Image:...
Ohia seeds are small, golden colored bits that are tedious to collect. (Image: RapidOhiaDeath/Facebook)
The Lyon Arboretum houses a vast seed collection to restore native plants to Hawaii's...
The Lyon Arboretum houses a vast seed collection to restore native plants to Hawaii's ecosystem. (Image: RapidOhiaDeath/Facebook)

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Deep in the quiet Manoa Valley, the fight to protect the sacred Ohia plant plays on.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii's Lyon Arboretum seed conservation lab have been collecting, banking and growing Ohia seedlings to combat Rapid Ohia Death.

Seed Conservation Laboratory Manager Marian Chau says since researchers began collecting Ohia seeds, they've gathered over 2 million from forests on Oahu and the Big Island.

Chau says partners on Kauai are also working to gather seeds. About 700,000 seeds have been collected on the Garden Isle.

"Being able to continue the effort is really fulfilling for me," Chau said. "It makes me happy to be able to contribute to this one aspect of very important conservation efforts."

Chau hopes the seeds will serve as an emergency bank to regrow the Ohia population in light of a deadly disease killing the plants.

The fungus was first discovered in 2014. Scientists say the disease has quickly spread thousands of acres of forests on the Big Island, but ROD has not been found on any other island.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture implemented a ban on inter-island transport of Ohia parts to prevent the spread.

Native Hawaiians are concerned over the health of the highly respected plant.

In 2016, some hula halau competing in the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival opted to not use the Ohia blossom in costume adornments. A difficult, but important decision to make to save the species.

Hawaiian Airlines also is educating their passengers with an in-flight video highlight the importance of the plant.

Chau, like many others, hopes to slow the spread of ROD, and eventually eliminate it from Hawaii's ecosystem.

She says the arboretum does have plans to expand operations in the near future to continue protecting indigenous plants of Hawaii.

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