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. 2022 update — Interestingly, C. konahuanuiensis doesn’t nest deeply within the rest of the core rollandia clade. Rather it seems to be sister to C. st-johnii and both originate from another possible hybridization event between rollandia and grimesiana.
  • 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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Snapshot: Patagonian Mara

Patagonian Mara

We tend to look at islands like Hawai’i or New Zealand or Madagascar for extreme examples of adaptive radiation. But of course, they are not the only places to see this. Take, for example, this picture I took at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. What may look like some strange cross between a deer and a rabbit is actually a type of rodent.

Patagonian Mara (Dolichotis patagonum) are part of the cavimorph radiation of rodents mainly centering in South America. One of the most familiar to the general public is the Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus). Perhaps colonizing South America sometime in the late Eocene/ early Oligocene, cavimorphs evolved into many spectacular forms. Unlike many rodents, Mara are monogamous, active during the day, and eat grasses out on the open plain. Hawai’i has lobelias that turn into trees, Patagonia has rodents that turned into antelope. Touche.

These guys were fairly large too! By my reckoning 20-30 lbs. And just a few million years back, mara had much larger cousins. Josephoartigasia monesi may have weighed 2 tons! Imagine that, a rodent larger than a bull. Not your average mouse by any means.

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A whole new world, a brave new world

Kaala clouds

So, I’ve been blogging here at Studia Mirabilium for almost a 1/4 of a score now. And hiking almost every weekend since I started. We’re talking a couple hundred of hikes now. But in that time, there were still major portions of O’ahu that I haven’t step foot in. Circumstance and priority may have kept me away, but I was finally able to hike the southern portion of the Wai’anae volcano. I couldn’t wait to see how different that forest would be from my usual stomping grounds. Yes, it was a whole new world for me. So I hope you will join me on this ride (minus the soma-induced flying carpet of course)…

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Getting to know your Hawaiian Lobeliads #33: Cyanea calycina

Cyanea calycina

Cyanea calycina

  • Hawaiian Name: Haha
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Distribution: O’ahu
  • Date photographed: 9/13/2014
  • Ease of viewing: Moderately difficult
  • *Identification: Form– Stems woody, 1-3 m long. Leaves– elliptic to oblanceolate, blades 15-60 cm long, 5.5-14 cm wide, petiole 1-9 cm long. Flower– calyx lobes oblong to ovate, 4-10 mm long; corolla pubescent, 5-8 cm long.
  • Phylogenetic comments: Cyanea calycina is part of the Rollandia radiation within the Acuminata clade. As far as I know  it is still one big polytomy; it is not clear which former Rollandia spp. are more closely related to which. C. calycina itself was recently split from taxa now known as Cyanea lanceolata. Hopefully soon, we will have a better resolution of this part of the lobeliad tree.
  • My notes: Holy smoking polymorphy batman! A few traits seem to be diagnostic ( calyx, leaf texture, etc.) but it seems like every thing else is up in the air. If you do a google image search for C. calycina, you’ll see just how variable this species is. I made it a point to monitor this little guy every few weeks. He rewarded me with some of the darkest, purest red flowers known in the taxa. Cyanea calycina… Cyanea chicanery more like it!
  • Links: Smithsonian Flora of the Hawaiian Islands, UH Botany, Native Hawaiian Plants- Cyanea

*From Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai’i

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Getting to know your Hawaiian Lobeliads #32: Cyanea hardyi

Cyanea hardyi

Cyanea hardyi -cultivated

  • Hawaiian Name: Haha
  • Conservation Status: Apparently secure
  • Distribution: Kaua’i
  • Date photographed: 5/22/2013
  • Ease of viewing: Cultivation -Limahuli Gardens
  • *Identification: Form– Branched shrub or tree, 1-7 m tall Leaves– elliptic to oblanceolate, blades 18-28 cm long, 2.5-5 cm wide, base attenuate into a winged petiole 2.5-8 cm long. Flower– calyx lobes dentiform, 0.5-1 mm long; corolla purplish to blackish purple, 20-26 mm long, 23 mm wide.
  • Phylogenetic comments: 2022 updateCyanea hardyi is part of the coriacea clade of Cyanea with mostly a Kaua’i radiation. This clade of possible hybrid origin between the pyrularia  clade and angustifolia clade has a fairly large diversification of species on Kaua’i.
  • My notes: Limahuli Gardens is such a jewel on the north coast of Kaua’i; I really have to do a proper post on it one of these days. They have a nice representation of Hawaiian lobeliads, with Cyanea hardyi being one of the more prominent ones.
  • Links: Smithsonian Flora of the Hawaiian Islands, UH Botany, Native Hawaiian Plants- Cyanea

*From Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai’i

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