Botanists Rediscover a Rare Hawaiian Flower Thought To Be Extinct — Thanks To a Drone

Botanists Rediscover a Rare Hawaiian Flower Thought To Be Extinct — Thanks To a Drone

Hibiscadelphus woodii, a relative of the hibiscus flower thought to be extinct, has been spotted by a drone on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The last known sighting of H. woodii was in 2009. Quartz reports: In 2016, Ben Nyberg, a drone specialist, began working with the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai to scope out extreme spots in the verdant valleys of the island. He’s found examples of several rare species over the last few years, expanding the number of their individuals known to exist in the wild by a few here and there. But on a sunny day in February 2019, the drone’s camera picked up an even more exciting tuft of flora. Nyberg and [botanist Ken Wood who discovered the flower in 1991] stood on a ledge over a sheer wall of green. They’d hiked 700 ft down from the top of the Kalalau Valley cliffs to get there, but couldn’t get farther down into the valley, so Nyberg flew a drone another 800 ft down to look at a particularly verdant patch. “It’s probably never been looked at,” he says. Wood could tell from afar that it was a patch of native vegetation. On an island plagued by invasive plant species, that is always a welcome sight.

And then they saw it on the monitor: Hibiscadelphus woodii, like a ghost from the recent past, yet very much alive. They were thrilled. “There were some high fives for sure,” Nyberg says. In the drone footage, as the fluted cliffs slowly come into closer view, what first seems to be a carpet of green differentiates itself into individual plants, until eventually an unassuming little tree is in frame. To the untrained eye, it might be lost in the wash of its green surroundings but Wood knew it immediately to be the rare hibiscus relative he discovered in the 1990s. In the video here, you can see it at around the 00:58 mark. As far as Nyberg knows, it’s the first time a drone has been used to rediscover a species of plant thought to be extinct.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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