Growing Gardenia Remyi to preserve Hawai's flora

The propagation of a rare, endemic Hawaiian tree in the NTBG Conservation Nursery connects us to the past and shows us a way forward.

Born from volcanoes and shaped by wind, water, and waves, the Hawaiian islands evolved over millions of years to become some of the greatest biological treasures on Earth. What would we see, hear, and smell if we could travel back in time and explore Hawaii’s ecosystems as they were thousands of years ago? Perhaps we would see lush and multilayered forests protected by a tall canopy of trees that dapples sunlight onto the shrubs and dense understory below. We might hear sweeping winds and chattering branches punctuated by the chirps of colorful forest birds. The smell of damp soil, mist-covered leaves, and sweet, delicate floral notes might fill the air. It’s similar to what we might experience today, with a few glaring absences. 

The unique flora and fauna of the islands are declining at an unprecedented rate. With 90% of the 1367 unique plant species in Hawaii endemic to the islands, Hawaii sits atop the list of places with the most endangered and extinct species. The situation is dire, but we have the tools and resources needed to change course. NTBG and local, state, federal, and private conservation partners are connecting the science, conservation, and research dots to secure the survival of endangered trees such as the Gardenia remyi.

A member of the Rubiaceae (coffee) family, Gardenia remyi (known as Nanu in Hawaiian) is an endemic tree found on the Islands of Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii. Its habitat ranges from mesic to wet forest, ridge shrubland, and wet cliff. The branches of Gardenia remyi are covered in minute, soft, downy hairs, and leaves cluster towards the tips of the branches. The flowers are white and fragrant with delicate cinnamon, vanilla, and coconut notes. Traditional uses of the orange fruit pulp include creating yellow dye for kapa cloth. With approximately 80 mature trees remaining in the wild, Gardenia remyi is Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and threatened by displacement from nonnative plants, landslides, and reduced reproduction in the wild. 

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