While the term “endangered species” conjures images of rhinos, elephants and great apes, plants are undergoing their own extinction crisis, especially on islands where range-restricted species are under siege from introduced mammals, habitat conversion, climate change and other factors. We still know relatively little about these island plants, including their evolutionary histories, unique chemical properties and interrelationships with local insects and other species.
Perhaps nowhere is the plant extinction crisis more acute than Hawaii where 45% of all plants listed under the Endangered Species Act are found. Fortunately, Hawaii is also the site of one of the world’s most audacious and effective plant conservation programs. The Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), a BAND grantee, is dedicated to keeping endangered plants—those with 50 or fewer individuals left—from being lost forever. Before PEPP’s establishment in 2003, Hawaii was averaging one plant extinction per year. PEPP’s field botanists have reduced that number to zero, but their work is now under threat from federal funding cuts. Keeping Hawaii’s and other plant species alive is going to require broader public awareness and support for the importance of plants and the work of PEPP and others who dedicate their lives to safeguarding botanic diversity.