COURTESY HANK OPPENHEIMER
U.S. Wildlife officials want to place the Hawaiian mint vine on the threatened and endangered species list.
Officials want feds to call vine endangered
Phyllostegia hispida is a mint found only in the wet forest areas of East Molokai
WAILUKU » U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have taken a step toward putting a Hawaiian vine found only in the high, wet forest of East Molokai on the federal threatened and endangered species list.
The vine known as Phyllostegia hispida is a mint but has no fragrance and was seen in the wild only eight times in the wild from 1910 to 1979, officials said.
Hawaii remains the state with the highest number of endangered and threatened species -- 294 at last count, representing close to a quarter of the endangered and threatened species nationwide.
To regenerate the Phyllostegia hispida, a scientist who discovered 10 wild plant vines in the Puu Alii Natural Area Reserve on Molokai collected seeds from a mature plant and sent them to the Lyon Arboretum for propagation.
Cuttings were taken from some of the other vines.
Officials said 12 vines grown in captivity were planted in the natural area reserve last April and 11 and were healthy two months later.
Another 12 have been planted in the Nature Conservancy's Kamakou Preserve.
"We hope that the added protection the plant will receive from endangered species status will help bring it back from the brink of extinction," said Patrick Leonard, the service's field supervisor for the Pacific islands.
Federal officials said fences have been erected around several plants to protect them from wild pigs.
Wildlife service spokesman Ken Foote said placing the Phyllostegia hispida on the federal threatened and endangered species list will help in assessing what kind of measures are necessary for recovery and the location of critical habitat.
"We do not currently have life history information on this species," he said.
Foote said the loss of a native species indicates that the natural balance and function of the ecosystem has been negatively altered, damaged or destroyed in some way.
"The potential loss of any Hawaiian species affects the entire ecosystem," he said.
The vine was first described in 1870 by botanist William Hillebrand, who collected a specimen from the heights of Mapulehu on Molokai, according to the wildlife agency.
Wild vines have been found in wet ohia-dominated forests at elevations between 2,300 and 4,200 feet, the service said.
Federal officials are seeking public comment on listing the plant as endangered. The comment period ends April 21.
Copies of the proposed rule can be downloaded from the agency's Web site at www.fws.gov/pacificislands or through contacting Patrick Leonard, field supervisor, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 3-122, Box 50088, Honolulu 96859; telephone 792-9400.