Hawaii photograph

Lobelia in the Koolau Mountains

Posted: October 7, 2009

I hiked the Manana Trail with some friends to see a patch of lobelia high in the Koolau mountains above Puuloa (Pearl Harbor).

The Manana Trail is one of my favorite ways to reach the Koolau Summit ridge.  The trail follows the outline of the ridge and gains 1,700 feet in elevation over the 6 mile distance, requiring hikers to climb up and down dozens of puu (hills) in both directions over the 12 mile roundtrip.


Nikolaj Nordkvist, Mena Nordkvist (just married) and August Smith hike through eucalyptus, java plum, paperbark, and other introduced trees that dominate the initial two miles of the trail.


The vegetation becomes much more native beyond the third mile where we climbed up and down several hills covered with groves of koa trees (Acacia koa) and uluhe ferns (Dicranopteris linearis).


Rain drenched the landscape several times during our hike making the slopes slick and difficult to climb.  Mena skillfully uses one of several ropes installed along the trail to provide balance without placing her entire weight on the rope.


Waves of clouds blew in, rained on us and shrouded the trail in mist over and over again as we hiked towards the summit.


When we reached the top, clouds completely blocked the panoramic view of the windward coastline.  We proceeded along the edge in the mist with hopes that the clouds would pass and dissipate.


When the clouds lifted, we were thrilled to see a patch of lobelia no more than 12 inches off the ground on the windward facing slope.  This particular species — Lobelia gaudichaudii spp. koolauensis — is on the list of endangered species and is only found in remote parts of the Koolau Mountains.


When we found a plant in bloom we were just ecstatic!  The plant had a 2 foot long flower stalk which extended from the head of leaves with dozens of buds that open a handful at a time over the course of several weeks.


The flowers were no longer than 2 inches long and were creamy yellow in color with a greenish hue.  We lingered for quite some time admiring and photographing the flowers.


Upon close inspection we could see that the crevices at the tip of the stamenal column of the flowers are tinged with purple.  This lobelia is the same species as the one we saw at Konahuanui but is a different subspecies — koolauensis.


When additional waves of clouds began to blow in, we turned around to return the way we can come.  As we made our way back down climbing up and down each hill on the ridge, I reflected on our great fortune seeing the magnificent flowers of these endangered plants.  There is always something amazing to see in the Koolau Mountains.

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Hawaii’s Endangered Species — Plants, Bishop Museum

Hawaiian Lobelioids, Wikipedia

Lobelia gaudichaudii spp. koolauensis, Hawaii’s Endangered Plants, State of Hawaii

Manana Trail, Na Ala Hele Trail System, State of Hawaii

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