News Column

New 'brother of hibiscus' uncovered on Valley Isle

August 4, 2014

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser



Aug. 04--A trio of Hawaii botanists has discovered a new tree species related to the hibiscus plant in the remote Kauaula Valley on Maui.

The plant -- Hibiscadelphus stellatus -- grows between 10 to 20 feet tall, with smooth branches and light green leaves. Its flowers, which open midday, are red-tinged, purple and yellow, with a maroon-purple staminal column.

The new species adds to seven previously known Hibiscadelphus, or "brother of hibiscus," plants. (The second half of the new species' name, stellatus, is Latin for star-shaped.)

Field botanists Hank Oppenheimer and Keahi Bustament of the Plant Extinction Prevention Program, a project under the University of Hawaii at Manoa, first came across the plants in 2012 in West Maui with co-discoverer Steve Perlman of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

The trees were found growing on steep, rocky slopes between elevations of 800 and 900 meters (or up to 2,953 feet) in the West Maui Mountains, according to a study published last week in the journal PhytoKeys.

"After careful study, comparing the new trees with all those previously known, it was concluded that these represented a species new to science," a news release said.

Four of the other known "brother of hibiscus" species are extinct; two other species exist only in cultivation; and one other exists in its natural habitat, the study said.

The researchers initially found 76 trees of the new species before finding another colony of 23 plants a year later. With the 99 known plants on Maui, the new species has the largest known wild population and the only known naturally occurring seedlings of any species in the Hibiscadelphus genus, the study said.

"Every new species discovered is exciting, but this species, belonging to such a unique endemic island lineage, is more special," said Art Medei­ros, a Maui biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Besides being beautiful, it is a true contribution to Hawaiian natural history."

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Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)


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