First placed on the candidate list: 1975
na’ena’e’s long bureaucratic listing
delay is typical of Hawaiian plants. On average, the
86 Hawaiian plants on the current candidate list were
first put there 18 years ago.
Years waiting for protection: 29
Habitat: bogs and wet forests
na'ena'e is a striking plant of the bogs and wet forests
near the summit of Waialeale on the island of Kauai. The
Smithsonian Institution petitioned to list it as an endangered
species in 1975 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made
it candidate that same year. In 1976 the agency formally
proposed to list the na’ena’e as an endangered
species, but never finalized the process. Instead, the species
was allowed to languish unprotected on the candidate list
for 29 years. Today there are just 25 plants left.
Hawaiian plants suffered the ultimate cost of
bureaucratic listing delays. The Smithsonian
Institution petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to list Haleakala stenogyne, the four-angled
pelea, Hedyotis degeneri var. coprosmifolia,
the blood tetramolopium, the Lanai phyllostegia
and Neal's melicope as endangered species in
1975. The agency proposed to list them as endangered
species in 1976 but never finalized the process.
Seeking to jumpstart the stalled process, the
Smithsonian again petitioned to list them in
1978. The agency ignored the petition and left
the species unprotected on the candidate list.
They were last seen in 1984, 1991, 1985, 1980,
1979, and 1980 respectively. Two of them (four-angled
pelea, Hedyotis degeneri var. coprosmifolia)
were eventually listed, but only after they had
The na'ena'e is threatened by feral pigs,
whose numbers on the summit of Waialeale have increased
the listing delay. Hawaii's ecosystems had evolved largely
in isolation until 1778, when Captain James Cook introduced
European pigs. These became feral and invaded forested areas,
including Kauai. Just like domestic cattle on the American
mainland, pigs trample and eat plants and their seeds and
seedlings, thus undermining forest regeneration. They disturb
soil and cause erosion, especially on slopes. They also help
disperse alien plant seeds on their hooves and coats as well
as through their digestive tracts, fertilizing the disturbed
soil with their feces and helping establish these plants.
Pigs are thus a major vector in the spread of many of the
hundreds of introduced plant species that compete with Hawaii's
native plants — including the na'ena'e — for
space, light, water, and nutrients.
Today the na’ena’e survives in just two populations
totaling 25 plants on State of Hawaii public lands, plus
a handful being grown in captivity. It is unknown if the
cultivated plants can be successfully transplanted into the
wild if the pigs eliminate the mountain populations. Even
naturally occurring events (such as landslides) could wipe
the na’ena’e off the face of the Earth, so low
are its numbers and so limited its distribution.