'Rock Star' Botanist Rappels Down Cliffs to Save Hawaii's Rarest Plants

Heidi Chang

Published August 11, 2014

Field botanist Steve Perlman has been at the forefront of protecting Hawaii’s endangered species for more than 40 years. He is one of the state's original 'rock star' botanists - literally. In the 1970s, he pioneered rappelling down high cliffs to save the Brighamia insignis - a rare Hawaiian plant commonly known as the Alula.

1

Portulaca sclerocarpa grows on cinders and lava substrates. Threats to this rare species include introduced ungulates and plants, fires, and volcanic activity. (Photo by Josh VanDeMark)

2

Cyanea stictophylla is a rare species of flowering plant in the bellflower family, known as haha in Hawaiian. It is known only from the rainforests of Mauna Loa. (Photo by Josh VanDeMark)

3

The sap of the incredibly rare Hawaii tree cotton has been used by native Hawaiians to make red dyes for fishnets and its bark was used to treat thrush. (Photo by Anya Tagawa)

4

A population of Hibiscadelphus stellatus was discovered in a remote, steep valley on the west side of Maui in 2012 by Steve Perlman, Hank Oppenheimer and Keahi Bustament. (Photo by ©Hank Oppenheimer)

5

Geranium arboreum is the only bird-pollinated geranium in the world and was once widespread across the lower slopes of Haleakalā. (Photo by ©Hank Oppenheimer)

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Gardenia brighamii, also known as nanu and the Forest gardenia, once flourished on all the main Hawaiian islands but is now restricted to Lanai and Oahu. (Photo by by ©Hank Oppenheimer)

7

In the 1970s, Steve Perlman, seen here in the National Tropical Botanical Garden on the island of Kauai, was inspired to rappel off Kaua`i’s high cliffs to save this rare Hawaiian plant known as the Alula. (Heidi Chang/VOA)

8

Steve Perlman and Wendy Kishida inspect a protective cage where one of Hawaii's rarest plants, a Platanthera holochila (native orchid), had been outplanted. Kokee, Kauaʻi, 2011. (Photo by Jon Letman/NTBG)

9

Botanist Steve Perlman collects seeds from of the few remaining Platanthera holochila, a native orchid species which is on the Plant Extinction Prevention program’s target list. (Photo by ©Hank Oppenheimer)

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