More than 1400 plant species are known from the Hawaiian Islands, around 90 percent only grow there. Now the collection is one species richer, and it is also one of the rarest plants on earth: Just a single specimen of Cyanea heluensis discovered Hank Oppenheimer and Jennifer Higashino despite an intensive search in the gorges of Mauna Kahalawa on Maui. The first description of the plant appeared in »Phytokeys«which was found in 2010, but has only now been scientifically recorded.
The two biologists had stimulated the plant to grow stronger with a special paste in order to then pull a new individual in the botanical garden via an offshoot. This failed, but they could also get a seed of Cyanea heluensis collect, from which another plant eventually grew. It belongs to the species-rich group of the lobelia family, which has produced around 80 different species on the Hawaiian Islands. They all go back to a common ancestor who arrived on the island chain eight to ten million years ago.
Cyanea heluensis clearly differs from its relatives by the shape of the leaves and their white flowers. Oppenheimer became aware of them when he searched the slopes of the study area with binoculars. The plant grows in a very shady place in a remote canyon of the volcano on Maui. The species is likely pollinated by birds, which eat its orange colored berries and thereby spread their seeds.
Many of the original bird species on the island chain, however, have been exterminated in the last few centuries or their populations have decreased extremely. It is therefore possible that the pollinator of the newly discovered plant is missing. In addition, introduced snails and rats eat fruit, seeds and leaves, which further threatens the species. There are also natural risks such as landslides in the steep terrain. Oppenheimer and Higashino therefore classify them directly as endangered species.