Saving Hawaii’s Rarest Orchid

National Tropical Botanical Garden

It’s a mid-morning and I’m standing with three botanists in Kokee State Park, the forested roof of Kauai, as they lace up their boots and pull on two-toed tabis. All four of us, dressed in shades of green and brown, prepared for mud, sun and rain, draw our packs tight and step purposefully onto the trail.

Our charge is simple: walk into the Alakai Swamp to a remote bog and check on the progress of eight recently outplanted young seedlings of Platanthera holochila, the native Hawaiian fringed orchid. Time allowing, we will trek to a second more isolated bog informally named for a single known plant, also a fringed orchid, as far as anyone knows the very last one of its kind left in the wild on Kauai.

Platanthera holochila is no ordinary orchid. Unlike the fanciful cattleya and plucky purple and white dendrobium commonly cultivated in Hawaii, Platanthera holochila is one of only three species of orchids native to Hawaii and is, without question, the rarest. It is a plant literally perched on the edge of extinction.

My guides this April morning are life-long devotees to the flora of Hawaii, more at home among trees and ferns than in the company of people.

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