Severe budget cuts are threatening the plant extinction prevention program.
The trail in Kauaʻi’s Kokeʻe State Park. Photo by Alessandra Potenza / The Verge
Four thousand feet above sea level in Hawaii’s Kokeʻe State Park, the weather is drier and cooler than the island of Kauaʻi below. Unlike the lowland, where invasive species dominate the landscape, there’s a forest of mostly native trees and plants all around us. “It’s very pleasant to walk in,” says Steve Perlman. A field botanist who’s been at the forefront of protecting Hawaii’s endangered plants for over 40 years, he’s known for rappelling from ridges to find rare plants. In 2014, he joined the Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), which focuses on protecting Hawaiian plants that only have fewer than 50 individuals left in the wild.
We arrive at a spot where the trail enlarges a bit and is covered in gravel. The gravel was put there after the trail flooded and hikers began piercing another trail through the forest, unknowingly walking over rare and precious native plants. Perlman points one out — it’s small and frail, with a beautiful, elongated white flower and over 10 buds. It’s called Psychotria grandiflora, or Kopiko, and there are only 30 or so plants left on Kauaʻi, the only Hawaiian island where it grows.