Rare post on a common bird

It has been over a year since I last posted. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the blog going into the future. In the meantime, I visited Texas for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed the grackles in the city.


Great tailed grackles (Quiscaulus mexicanus) are a very common bird in urban San Antonio. I saw hundreds roosting on powerlines along the various highways around the city. Now coming from Hawai’i, we just don’t have birds of this size commonly seen in town.

This successful bird highlights the many challenges facing future of human/animal interactions. For many residence of the town, grackles are a nuisance. Their droppings make a mess of vehicles and property. Grackles have been called loud and annoying.

There is also a question of their native status. They seemed to have greatly expanded their range inland in the beginning of the 20th century. Davis (1940) listed great tailed grackles as vagrants to Brazos County. By 1951 Petrides & Davis listed them as resident. Their range seems to still be expanding as human continue to develop urban areas.

Another year, and the questions still remain the same; how do we share this planet that we live on? Someday, I hope we have to worry about the hordes of ‘i’iwi and ‘akiapolo’au raining droppings on our cars. Those are the problems I’d much rather be solving. Happy New Year’s to all!

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The face that we almost forgot


If you are of a particular age cohort, you will remember the sensation that was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Lauded, then cliched, for its plot twist, the movie was also known for Haley Joel Osment’s famous utterance: “I see dead people.” I bring this up here at Studia Mirabilium not because I’m doing a movie review but because it is a great cultural shorthand for how I describe the scientific reconstruction that my mind’s eye does. For while I don’t see dead people… I do see dead birds. Namely the extinct ones.

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Snapshot: Korean Swallows


One nice thing for me when I travel is seeing how local fauna have adapted to the human condition. While this is a common sight in many parts of the world, Hirundinidae (Swallows, Martins) aren’t found in Hawai’i. Many species have a long benign relationship with people due to their superb aerial hawking of unwanted insects. I’m not an expect but this might be a common Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). The very name highlights its relationship with people and their structures.

But it’s one thing to nest in a rural, undeveloped barn.

swallow nest

This pair decided to nest in the decidedly unrural Jeonju Bus Terminal! Buses honking, people jostling, luggage thrown about, yet there were enough food and resources that these birds thought this was the perfect place to raise a family. Sharing the planet at its finest!

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Snapshot: Toothbrush Fern


This dainty little endemic fern is ‘oali’i makali’i (Schizaea robusta). I came across it near the summit of Konahuanui. Interestingly, the frond is mostly made up of just the stipe; the blades are only found the very distal portion. This rather unique look gives it another colloquial name: the toothbrush fern. Keep an eye for it on wet summit and boggy areas.

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Snapshot: Psychotria longissima

Psychotria longissima

So here are some seedlings from a plant with uncertain affiliations. Currently it is part of Psychotria kaduana. But it was originally described as Psychotria longissima and has a much longer, droopy inflorescence. There is much work to be done with the genetics of the native Psychotria radiation here in Hawai’i. It remains to be seen whether this is a distinct population or not.

In the meantime, I’m playing it safe. While one of the more well known supposed P. longissima trees flowers consistently, last year was the first time I saw that tree produce fruit. With the expertise and TLC from the seed lab, they germinated!

outplanted Psychotria longissima


They’ve been in the ground a few weeks but they’re looking good! So, whether or not it is a genetically distinct population, there will be more droopy kopiko on Pu’u ‘Ohia.

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Mt. Ka’ala: A walk to remember

Trematolobelia kaalae

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Sebastian? You’re comparing a hike into some of the most intact native forest on O’ahu to a sappy Nicholas Sparks book?! There are relictual native species in the area that the general public rarely gets to see and this is how we get to hear about them… wait, don’t tell me you cried?” Well…yes, yes I did…

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Getting to know your Hawaiian Lobeliads #35: Trematolobelia macrostachys

Trematolobelia macrostacys

Trematolobelia macrostachys

  • Conservation Status: Apparently secure
  • Distribution: O’ahu (Ko’olau), Moloka’i, Maui
  • Date photographed: 11/15/2012
  • Ease of viewing: Difficult
  • *Identification: Form– Treelets 1-4 m tall Leaves– linear to oblanceolate, blades 15-36 cm long, 0.8-3.1 cm wide. Flower– calyx lobes triangular, 3-17 mm long, 1-3 mm wide; corolla various shades of pink, subbilabiate, 43-73 mm long.
  • Phylogenetic comments: Trematolobelia macrostacys is the only species in the endemic genus found on multiple islands. The genus itself is thought to be the sister clade of Lobelia sect. Galeatella
  • My notes: Once again my O’ahu love is showing. The first plants discovered in this genus were from the summits behind Honolulu by George T. Lay sometime between 1826-1827. It is neat for me to think the same areas where I see them now are the same areas where they were first scientifically described all those years ago. Unlike other capsular lobeliads, the fruits don’t dehisce by loculicidal slits, but by irregular pores throughout the fruit walls. The dry fruit have been colorfully called “pepper shakers” in some circles (i.e. my nerdy plant friends). T. macrostachys typically flowers from September through November. It is always a spectacular side bonus to any summit hike to come across one in full infloresence!
  • Links: Smithsonian Flora of the Hawaiian Islands
  • Refs: Lammers, Thomas G. “Revision of the endemic Hawaiian genus Trematolobelia (Campanulaceae: Lobelioideae).” Brittonia 61.2 (2009): 126-143.
  • Additional Photos:

Trematolobelia macrostacys

*From Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai’i

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Snapshot: Lazarus, the Clermontia

clermontia keiki

Clermontia kakeana is still a fairly common lobeliad. Except on O’ahu; it is  not easy to see  on pretty much any trail here. Tantalus has a fairly healthy population of it. I’d like to think we at the Manoa Cliff restoration have done our darnedest to keep it that way.

There were a couple plants that died a few years back that I wish I got more fruit from. Every time I checked before, they never had any fruit. It was disappointing that the last time I checked they were just skeletons for plants.

While we do have some representation from those plants, I had always hoped to have more. And it turns out, tucked in the back of our colleague’s refrigerator was a little bag of seeds collected from those very plants. From 2010 though. I was skeptical that those 5 year old seeds would germinate, but imagine my surprise when I saw this. There’s “plants vs. zombies” and then there’s zombie plant. Score 1 (more like a few hundred) for team lobeliad!

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Spot the different Rollandia species of Konahuanui!

Cyanea humboltdiana

haha mili'ohu 2

So, this new species Cyanea konahuanuiensis (Haha mili’ohu), how does it look different from other Cyanea spp? There are actually a few species of Cyanea spp. that live in the same general area as haha mili’ohu. Let’s take a look. The top picture is Cyanea humboltdiana the bottom is said C. konahuanuiensis. Incidentally, these two are definitely sympatric, the 2 plants themselves are a few hundred feet from each other.

humboldtiana leaf


miliohu leaf


Again, top is C. humboldtiana, bottom is Haha mili’ohu. Notice how much more hairy the leaves of haha mili’ohu are compared to  C. humboldtiana. As you can see above, both surfaces are quite hairy.

humboldtiana buds


miliohu inflorescence

There is a lot going on here. Both species have long, pendulous infloresences, but again C. konahuanuiensis‘ entire floral structure is much hairier than C. humboldtiana. As for the flowers themselves, notice too how much larger the calyx (the triangular petals surrounding the colorful flower) are on haha mili’ohu than C. humboldtiana.

humboldtiana keiki




Even the keiki look different!

And there are more Cyanea spp, specifically in the Rollandia radiation, that live in the general area.

cyanea calycina

This Cyanea calycina is maybe a quarter mile away. The leaves and flowers are not as hairy, floral structure is shorter and less droopy, and calyx are chunkier.



This Cyanea koolauensis too is roughly a quarter mile away. Its leaves are much more glabrous and a lot skinnier.

Cyanea crispa flowers


cyanea crispa flowers


And Cyanea crispa is found nearby too. Leaves can get much, much larger on C. crispa vs. C. konahuanuiensis. And again, the entire floral structure is very different.

So there we have it, a quick visual guide to some of the differences between Cyanea konahuanuiensis and the other closely related species that live nearby. Of course, a more exhaustive list is found in the paper. (Hint, hint, hint)

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The Wonder of Discovery: # 34 Cyanea konahuanuiensis

Cyanea flower

So I changed up the format for my next post in the lobelia series. For how can it be normal; Cyanea konahuanuiensis is a species brand new to science that I helped describe!

I’m not going to rehash everything, that is what the paper is for. But I’ve always had this romantic image of what discovering a new species would be like. That of the pith-helmeted naturalist with a well-waxed mustache hacking his way through malaria infested swamps. Imagine the naturalist pushes aside a man-sized frond to encounter a quiet glade. His heart skips a beat. In the center of this opening, with a solitary beam of dappled sunlight shining on it, is some unknown wonder of nature. (In my daydream it’s a giant ground sloth!) Our intrepid naturalist feels vindicated and cannot wait to tell his benefactors back home what he has discovered.

Real scientific discovery is pretty far from that fiction. For one, I first met C. konahuanuiensis on one of the soggiest, chilliest hikes I had ever been on! And two, scientific discovery is more than just saying “Hmm, I think you’re something new!”, posting a picture on the interwebs, and have everyone congratulating you on a job well done. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of a 2+ year process to formally describe the species.

But I must say, I feel pretty proud of my small part in all of this. I’d imagine it is more so for the rest of the team who really put the effort behind all of i: Maggie, Adam, Mashuri & Tobias. I tip my cap to you folks.

If there is one thing that people take from this, it is the importance of biological surveying here in Hawai’i. Species have been discovered and more commonly rediscovered here with surprising regularity. With all the detrimental environmental impacts occurring in Hawai’i, some of these plants could go extinct before we even knew they were there.

Having gotten the maudlin issues out of the way, without further ado… Haha mili’ohu! (Rather appropriate that I just turned 34 last week and this is the 34th lobeliad in the series!)

Haha mili'ohu

Cyanea konahuanuiensis

  • Hawaiian Name: Haha mili’ohu
  • Conservation status: —
  • Distribution: O’ahu
  • Date photographed: 7/6/2013
  • Ease of viewing: Difficult
  • Identification: Form– Unarmed shrubs 57–69 cm high, with 1–6 stems originating at the base Leaves– blades elliptic to oblong, 10-16 cm wide, 20-33 cm long, petioles 2-4.2 cm long Flower– calyx lobes linear to linear-oblong 5-7 mm wide, 16-18 mm long; corolla dark purple, 12-13 mm wide, 86-99 mm long, externally densely pubescent
  • Phylogenetic comments: Cyanea konahuanuiensis is a newly described species that shares the staminal column adnation to the corolla with other members of the Rollandia radiation within the Acuminata clade. But, of course, more genetic work needs to be done.
  • Links: Sporck-Koehler MJ, Koehler TB, Marquez SN, Waite M, Williams AM (2015) A new species of Cyanea (Campanulaceae, Lobelioideae), from the Ko‘olau Mountains of O‘ahu, Hawaiian Islands. PhytoKeys 46: 45-60.doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.46.8694
  • Additional Photos:

haha mili'ohu 2



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