One of the rare flowers found only on Oʻahu is Cyanea crispa or Haha.  Known as the Crimpled Rollandia, the plant grows up to 5 feet high with large broad leaves that form a crown at the top of the plant several feet in diameter.

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The plant was discovered by famous botanist Charles Gaudichaud Beaupré in 1826 during his first voyage to the Hawaiian islands on the French ship Uranie.  When the plant was first described it was given the scientific name Rollandia crispa.  Rollandia was once a separate genus under the Hawaiian Lobeliad Group but genetic studies showed that Rollandia and Cyanea form a monophyletic group.  So all the species formerly classified under Rollandia were renamed Cyanea.  The specific Hawaiian name for this plant is unknown.  Haha is the generic Hawaiian name for Cyanea.

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When the plant is in bloom its flowers are a sight to behold.  The plant produces multiple flower stalks at the base of its leaves each producing anywhere from 3 to 8 flowers.  The tubular flowers are about 3-4 inches long and are pink-purple in color streaked with white.  When the flowers first open the male part of the flower — stamens — white brushes — emerge at the tip of the flower.  Only after the pollen is distributed does the female part of the flower — stigma — “pursed lips” — emerge.

Caterpillar on Cyanea Crispa-Cropped-Med-1500

The petals and corolla of the flower are fuzzy — covered with fine white hairs. When I looked closely at the flowers I saw a tiny caterpillar with an interesting texture and pattern on its body.

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The plant is rare and endangered. When the species was first placed on the federal list of endangered species in 1994 only 10 plants were known in the wild.  More plants were subsequently found and the when the last 5 year review was performed in 2009 110 individuals were known from 12 populations.

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The Hawaiian lobeliad group is viewed by botanists as the pinnacle of adaptive radiation in plants.   Scientists believe that a lobelia-like species arrived about 13 million years ago — when Gardner Pinnacles and French Frigate Shoals, now small rocky islands in the Northwest Hawaiian islands, were high mountainous islands long before the current main islands existed.  Over eons of time, as the Northwest Hawaiian islands eroded away to atolls and each of the main Hawaiian island emerged from the depths of the ocean to become high mountains, the plants were brought over by birds and the plant evolved into many forms.  These forms are closely related to each other and are geographically localized — many of them endemic to a single island or to adjacent islands. Cyanea is the largest and most diverse genus in the Hawaiian lobeliad group.

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Because the plant is vulnerable to extinction, the plant is cared for by the Plant Extinction Prevention Program.  Seeds have been collected in the wild and the plant is being propagated at the Lyon Arboretum and the National Tropical Botanical Garden.  I hope their efforts are successful to bring this plant back from the brink of extinction.

SOURCES

A Monographic Study of the Hawaiian Species of Tribe Lobelioideae Family Campunulaneae, By Joseph Francis Rock, Bishop Musuem Press 1919

Cyanea crispa, Wikipedia

Cyanea crispa Five year Review, April 2009, US Fish and Wildlife

Cyanea crispa, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Plant Extinction Prevention Program, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Department of Land and Natural Resources,  State of Hawaii