Thursday, March 20, 2008

Native Adaptations

Pity poor Charles Darwin. He went to South America, but never made it to Hawai'i. If he had, he would have not only escaped all those mosquitoes but he also would have been astounded by the incredible endemism that evolved here. Ninety percent of native Hawaiian plants are endemic, meaning that they are found nowhere else in the world. Instead of the Galapagos, Hawai'i would had been ground zero for the theory of evolution, and maybe people would have clamored to preserve native Hawaiian species before they went extinct or became endangered. Imagine rewriting every history and science textbook around the world to put the spotlight on Hawai'i!

From mountain to sea, native plant species have unique adaptations that help them survive. Take a hike to celebrate their beauty and learn more about them, and you might also get some ideas for landscaping your own yard. Remember, don't collect propagative material unless you are allowed to -- in many cases, you need permits to collect from the wild. Purchasing native plants from a reputable nursery is a hassle-free, low-impact way to furnish your garden.

This week my plant-geek travels went from a secluded sandy beach in Miloli'i to the very top of snowy Mauna Kea.

MAKAI: (Below) ‘Ae‘ae (Bacopa monnieri) and a native sedge (Cyperus sp.) blanket a semishady seep area at a beach of white and black sand. ‘Ae‘ae makes a good ground cover around shrubs in small areas and both can do quite well in most coastal home landscapes when maintained with regular weeding and adequate watering.

MAUKA: At the alpine scrub zone on Mauna Kea, pukiawe (Styphelia tameiameiae) and hinahina (Geranium cuneatum) grow together where water collects in cracks and crevices. Pukiawe is a tough plant adapted to harsh, dry conditions at low and high elevations, which makes it great for xeriscaping in home gardens, and it is slow-growing. On the other hand, this native alpine geranium is able to survive only in these cooler temperatures and won't do well at lower elevations. Just enjoy the view.

Though one wouldn’t have any success growing them even if you could plant them in a backyard, one can certainly appreciate the endangered Ahinahina in the wild, also known as silverword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense). This stunning sunflower relative has been outplanted in exclosures to keep out feral sheep and goats that love to nibble on them. Have a look at this endemic species in the area adjacent to the parking lot at the Mauna Kea visitor information station at 9,200 feet.

Both the native geranium and silversword have silvery leaves that reflect the greater levels of ultraviolet light at this high altitude, an adaptation that allows them to survive here on Mauna Kea.

Hope you get out and enjoy the true nature of Hawai'i this week, too.

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
-- John Muir

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