The 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.
First placed on the candidate list: 1975
Years waiting for protection: 29
Range: Hawaii
Habitat: bogs and wet forests

The 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.

Six 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 disappeared.

The na'ena'e is threatened by feral pigs, whose numbers on the summit of Waialeale have increased substantially during 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.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
May 3, 2004
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