Rare Molokai vine joins endangered species list


POSTED: Saturday, March 21, 2009

The federal government has put a rare Molokai vine on the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said earlier this week.

It is the second species to be classified as endangered under the Obama administration.

The green vine is found solely in the wet forests of eastern Molokai, 2,300 to 4,200 feet above sea level. Its loosely spreading branches often tangle in a large mass.

The vine does not have a common name and is known only by its scientific name of Phyllostegia hispida.

“;It is our hope that it will come to the forefront of public attention along with Hawaii's other numerous endangered plants,”; said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the agency's Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

Only 10 individuals of the vine had ever been spotted between 1910 and 1996, the agency said.

It was thought to be extinct in 1997, but two seedlings were found in 2005 at the Nature Conservancy's Kamakou Preserve.

Since 2007, 24 wild plants have been discovered. A total of 238 plants are known to currently exist.

The vine's low numbers put it at higher risk for being wiped out by natural disasters like hurricanes and disease outbreaks. Feral pigs, an invasive species, and competition from non-native plants also threaten the plant.

The Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu, Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai and other organizations have been growing specimens that might be used to plant the vine in the wild, the agency said.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has put up fences in some areas to protect them from pigs and other feral animals.

The vine has been a candidate for the endangered species list since 1997.

The first species designated endangered by the Obama administration was the reticulated flatwoods salamander, an amphibian native to southern Georgia, northern Florida and coastal South Carolina. It was put on the list last month.

Last year, under the Bush administration, the federal government placed three species on the list. Two species were added to the list in 2007.

Hawaii has 329 federally protected endangered species, more than any other state.