Big Island Part 1: Darwin’s Leafy Rockstars

Whew! New apartment, new computer… sometimes life jolts forward in well-demarcated iterations. Heck, it’s even a new day now that there isn’t a new Harry Potter movie to look forward to anymore. In the midst of all this upheaval, I did manage to sneak away to Big Island for a friend’s weekend wedding. Of course I crammed in as much nature sightseeing as I could…

We were staying on the Kona side, so what better way to get my feet wet in Big Island biota than to check out the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden just outside Captain Cook. The garden is split up into different zones, but for me, the real interesting stuff was in their dryland/ coastal zone.

Uhiuhi (Caesalpinia kavaiensis) was once a common element of native dryland forest throughout each island. Unfortunately, there isn’t much native dry forest anymore and this plant is now very rare to find.

Here goes my O’ahu bias again. Pua kala (Argemone glauca) is found on O’ahu but is very rare. Here at the garden, Pua kala was growing like a weed around many of the specimen plants. I was enjoying seeing these plants in much higher densities than I’m normally used to.

Make no mistake, the garden has lots of awesome plants. What really interested me were the 2 special members of the Hibiscus family (Malvaceae) that the botanical garden showcase. Malvaceae are common cosmopolitan plants, but the long isolation here in Hawai’i allowed some to evolve into unique forms found nowhere else in the world. Move over Marine Iguanas for Darwin’s Leafy Rockstars:

Koki’o (Kokia drynarioides) is one of these unique Hawaiian plants. Originally from dry to mesic forest on the leeward side of Big Island, the species is rare in the wild, but luckily grows very well in cultivation. The corollas open in a very photogenic way as you can see above.

The other cool member of Malvaceae is this guy. Hau kuahiwi (Hibiscadelphus hualalaiensis) also does something different with its petals. The genus name means brother to Hibiscus noting the closeness between the two genera. Instead of completely opening like in many other Hibiscus flowers though, Hau kuahiwi flowers partly open; the corollas form a tube. These plants, like many others in Hawai’i, evolved toward pollination by birds.

When people think about the native forest birds here, the typical image conjured up is the wet rain forests. But the dry forests were probably ideal habitat as well. O’o birds and I’iwi roaming the dry leeward areas. It is such a shame that image is tough to even picture.

All hope is not lost. Luckily these splendid examples of adaptive radiation are still around to help us paint a better picture of what was, and what could be.

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3 Responses to Big Island Part 1: Darwin’s Leafy Rockstars

  1. Charlotte Yamane says:

    Hi Sebastian

    Happy for you that you’re in your new apt. Hope to seen you out some where some time.


  2. Pingback: Hui Laau Kamaaina LaiOpua Preserve Project Receives Cooke Foundation Grant « Damon Tucker: Hawaii News and Big Island Information

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