The nice thing about many of the windswept summits on O’ahu is that there are still many fairly intact native plant communities there. But by their very nature, surveying on the summits is difficult work. Nothing frustrates me more than barely making out an awesome native plant 40 feet below the summit trail on an inaccessible cliff. Which is why being on Ka’ala was such a joy. No knife-edge summit here, just acres of fairly flat plateau. It makes looking for rare native plants all the more easier. Let’s get right into it.
Ha’iwale (Cyrtandra spp.) in Hawai’i are quite morphologically variable. This species, Cyrtandra lessoniana, has very distinctive rugose leaves. It’s found only on O’ahu, but in both the Ko’olau and Wai’anae mountains.
That can’t be said for this plant. ‘Ape’ape (Gunnera petaloidea) is mired in myth and fable in the Ko’olaus. There are no recent records there. This particular individual is found near the fence of the radar station at the top of Mt. Ka’ala.
And of course, I was looking for lobeliads. Here are some Koli’i (Trematolobelia macrostacys). I believe the Wai’anae populations have been split off, but I’m not sure. Either way, I’ll be back up Mt. Ka’ala in May, when they are blooming.
The different species of Hawaiian mistletoes or hulumoa (Korthalsella spp.) are very interesting. Hulumoa are parasitic; they have specialized roots called haustoria which bore into the host to derive food. They are also host specific, each species of hulumoa is only found on certain plants. This species (Korthalsella cylindrica) is typically found on Ohia trees.
But if you’re on Mt. Ka’ala, you have to keep an eye out for a Ka’ala special: Korthalsella latissima. It is found mainly on Kaua’i and there is a record on Hawai’i. But on O’ahu it is only known from the bog on Mt. Ka’ala.
This species is… freaky-looking. The internodes are flatten, making it look like some kind of leaf insect. It could almost be a green version of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid! (Shameless plug of rare critter here). Korthalsella latissima, at least here on Ka’ala, is found on species of Myrsine. Keep an eye out for them.
While the hikes to Mt. Ka’ala can be quite challenging, walking around the top is definitely not as taxing on the feet. Just always be prepared for inclement weather. It’s not often that the top is cloud-free like in the pictures. But perhaps it will be for you as well.
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