BIODIVERSITY[WATCH] Hawaiian ‘Extinct’ Hibiscus Flower Rediscovered by Drone

Maureen SantosMay 6, 20194737 min

Is the discovery accidental or is there an underlying reason for it?

Last year, several animal and plant species have perished. It’s sad that nothing has been done or not enough effort was exerted to save them from extinction.

Unexpected discovery

Unexpectedly, in Hawaii, a long-gone flower was discovered by scientists while they were checking on tropical plants with a drone. Researchers from the Kaua’i-based National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) found the Hibiscadelphus woodii in the secluded cliffs of Kalalau Valley on Kaua’i. The location is very steep making it inconvenient for humans to trek. For decades, researchers have rappelled down the vertical cliffs to search every corner. In doing so, they risk their lives exploring dangerous ridgelines to find rare native plants.

Significant use of drone technology

Because of the advanced technology, scientists now can make explorations easier with the use of drones. The unmanned aerial vehicle made its surprising discovery in late January. It found evidence of Hibiscadelphus woodii growing on the cliffside. The plant is also known as “Wood’s hau kuahiwi.”

Hibiscadelphus woodii

Hibiscadelphus woodii has a rounded crown that can reach a height between 8.2 and 16.4 feet. The leaves on stalks have star-shaped hairs that eventually falls off upon maturity. The flowers grow individually on stalks with star-shaped hairs.

The hibiscus relative was initially discovered in 1991 and was named in 1995. However, it was considered extinct 3 years ago. The “extinct” flower is vibrant yellow in color that changes to purple over time. It was believed that the flowers were pollinated by local birds. Scientists, on their end, tried to propagate the plant by cross-pollination, grafting, and tip cuttings. Unfortunately, the efforts were not successful.

Total Hibiscadelphus woodii species

The Hibiscadelphus woodii’s discovery in the 1990s on the Kalalau Valley made the number of hibiscus species to a total of 7. The said species only thrive in the Hawaiian islands. Another species was found in Maui in 2012 that became the 8th hibiscus species.

NTBG drone specialist, Ben Nyberg found the Hawaiian “extinct” flower with the drone. So far, they have found three H. woodii plants that grew about 500 – 600 feet below the ridgeline.  

As Nyberg mentioned:

“We’ve looked at possibly short hauling somebody to go in there, but the cliff section is so vertical and it’s so far down the cliff that we’re not sure that there would be enough space for a helicopter to fit there,” Nyberg says. “It would be very difficult and dangerous for someone to even get to the top of the cliff to rappel down to it.”

Nyberg added that drones are exposing a hoard of undiscovered cliff habitat. It may not be the first find of its kind, he is sure that it will not be the last.

Hibiscadelphus woodii as endangered species

Hibiscadelphus woodii has been listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as a hibiscus relative gone extinct. With the help of drones, more animal and plant species can be discovered in Hawaii’s biodiversity hotspot without risking lives.

The rediscovery of the believed extinct Hawaiian hibiscus plant gave hope that other “extinct” animal and plant species might still be alive. They are just waiting to be rediscovered as well.


Maureen Santos

She lets everyone become aware of what is happening to our beloved planet Earth and its inhabitants. She can take you beyond the space and find out how neighbor planets are doing. Moreover, she would open your eyes to the things what makes the Earth suffer including the living species and allow you to decide what you can do to help save the planet and the future generation.

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