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The Palm Pritchardia munroi: Attempts to Save a Species from Extinction

Volume 2 Number 3 - May 1994

Shirley Gerum

In 1975, the world population of the endemic Hawaiian palm, Pritchardia munroi Rock, consisted of one living specimen in a remote mixed dry forest on the island of Molokai, the very plant used by Dr Joseph Rock to describe the species in 1921.

In December 1975, Waimea Arboretum sponsored an expedition to Molokai in the hopes of obtaining seeds or at least photographs of the palm. With the assistance of Molokai forester Noah Pekelo and a four-wheel drive vehicle, Waimea's Erling Hedemann Jr., Keith Woolliams and Tom Shaw were able to reach a ridge overlooking the lone surviving palm. A hike over rough terrain to the Pritchardia was rewarded with an unexpected abundance of ripe seed. Photographs were taken of the pig-damaged palm, with soil eroded from its base.

In an attempt to save the species through cultivation, seeds were sent to 16 institutions in various parts of the world and to the Palm Society Seed-Bank for distribution to members.

In 1989, a survey was undertaken by Waimea to determine the status of P. munroi (Accession Number 75s2295). Replies came in from institutions in the Canary Islands, Thailand and locally, confirming that there are now a total of 17 plants of P. munroi in existence around the world from the 1975 collection. Five more plants exist from subsequent collections, bringing the world total to at least 22, with the possibility that more specimens have not been reported.

And what of the parent plant?

It still stands on Molokai. More soil has eroded from its base, and it has suffered from 14 more years of mammal damage. However, with funds provided by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the International Palm Society, the Smithsonian Institute, and Waimea Arboretum Foundation, a wire exclosure now prevents pigs, goats and deer from harming the parent plant further.