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The Flowering Plants of Hawaii (beta)

Part 38 Primulaceae

Anagalis arvensis
Anagalis arvensis the scarlet pimpernel.

Primulaceae are a large family with some 2,575 species in 60 genera perhaps the most familiar of which would, of course, be Primula, which has over 430 species, and many varieties of horticultural interest. Dodecatheon, referred to Primula by some authorities, is a common element in western North America known commonly as shooting star or American cowslip. Other attractive, early summer elements in the spring flora of western North America are species of Trientalis, the star-flower.

The primrose has played an interesting part in classical literature, and from there to a place in idiomatic language. There is reference to this in Ophelia's advice to her brother Laertes, in their dealings with Hamlet (Act I, Scene III), to follow his own good advice and follow the path of righteousness to heaven rather than take the less challenging path to sin:

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.

The scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis (see image), played a significant, but cryptic, part in the novel by the same name by the Baroness Emmuska Orczy. The story, set in the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, featured the adventures of a young English aristocrat who, with a band of like-minded gentlemen, stole across the channel to rescue potential victims from the guillotine. His calling card bore a small picture of a scarlet pimpernel. The scarlet pimpernel, also rather less theatrically known as the poor man's weatherglass, occurs widely in disturbed areas in the Hawaiian Islands. The specimen seen in the illustration was growing beside a water channel near the taro fields in the Hanalei Valley, Kaua`i.

Lysimachia mauritiana
Lysimachia mauritiana. A Starr image.
Lysimachia daphnoides
Lysimachia daphnoides. Photo by Ken Marr.
Lysimachia glutinosa
Lysimachia glutinosa. Photo by Ken Marr.

Two genera of Primulaceae occur in the Hawaiian Islands, Anagallis, which we have just seen, and Lysimachia, with 11 species listed in the Manual, plus additional ones arising from more recent work. Lysimachia mauritiana, (see image) scattered and rare on the Hawaiian Islands, occurs otherwise widespread ranging from eastern Africa, through eastern Asia, to Japan, and many of the Pacific Islands. Through the exhaustive field studies of Dr. Kendrick (Ken) Marr several new species of Lysimachia were discovered and older ones re-investigated (Marr, 1995; Marr and Bohm, 1997). Several species are illustrated below. Lysimachia daphnoides (see image), called lehua makanoe, kolokolo kuahiwi, kolekole lehua, or kolokolo lehua in Hawaiian, is endemic to Kaua`i where it occurs in the Alaka`i Swamp. Also known from Kaua`i is L. glutinosa (see image) which occurs in mesic forests in the Koke`e area. Lysimachia remyi (see image) occurs in wet forests and cliffs on Moloka`I and Maui whereas the rare L. maxima (see image) is restricted to a few locations in the mountains of eastern Moloka`i. Lysimachia forbesii (see image), formerly known from the Ko`olau Mountains on O`ahu, has not been collected since 1934 and is considered to be extinct; here we see a typical dried herbarium specimen. The only information available for extinct species comes from physical measurements of the dried specimens, of the sort shown, and from the collector’s notes as they appear on the specimen label (or notebooks if they happen to be available). If flowers are available, it is often possible to get information about pollen, which can be a useful source of clues about relationships. And, if the plant specimens have been dried carefully—protected from bacterial and fungal infection—it may be possible to extract DNA for gene sequence studies.

Readers are no doubt aware that most specific epithets—the so-called 'species names'—refer to some structural feature of the plants, or are the names of botanists being honored, or to a geographical location such as the Sandwich Islands. What follows is the history behind a plant whose name incorporates a meteorological event.

Lysimachia remyi
Lysimachia remyi. A Starr image.
Lysimachia maxima
Lysimachia maxima. A Starr image.

One of the new species discovered by Ken Marr in the course of his work was given the name Lysimachia iniki the specific epithet arising from the Hawaiian word `iniki, which is defined, among other things, as "sharp and piercing, as wind or pangs of love" (Pukui and Elbert, p. 101). It is also the name given to the hurricane that devastated the island of Kaua`i on the 11th day of September, 1992. But, let's go back a bit to see how this story began.

On or about August 18th of that year a tropical wave was born off the northwestern coast of Africa, as tropical storms tend to be. During the following days the storm-to-be continued in a generally westward direction eventually crossing the Isthmus of Panama. [As most readers appreciate, some of these storms turn northward and menace the Caribbean Islands and the southern and southeastern United States.] On September 5th the tropical wave had become sufficiently organized to be recognized as a tropical depression, and was assigned the identifying number 18-E. On September 8th the system had crossed 140 W and was upgraded to a tropical storm, and assigned the name Iniki. At this point, the system was approximately 1,000 miles (1,500 km) east of the Hawaiian Islands. On September 9th the storm, lying about 470 miles (760 km) southeast of Hilo had intensified to hurricane level. On the following day its level was again raised, this time to the status of a major hurricane. Up to that point there was every expectation that Iniki would continue on its westward course following the southern edge of a high pressure ridge. In fact, at 2:00 pm (1400 hours) on September 10th the National Weather Service reported that the storm was likely to pass south of Kaua`i and miss the Hawaiian Islands completely. By 5:30 pm (1730 hours), however, things had begun to change, prompting declaration of a hurricane watch; by 8:30 pm (2030 hours) it had been raised to a hurricane alert. The change in status, and concern, was prompted by a breakdown of the high pressure ridge allowing Iniki to change course to a north by northwest heading. On the morning of September 11 the storm had reached category four as it slammed into the southwestern coast of Kaua`i with sustained wind speeds of 145 mph (220 kph). The damage to the island was extensive, ranking it the most destructive hurricane in the islands in recent memory, and one of the worst ever to occur in the United States.

Lysimachia forbesii
Lysimachia forbesii herbarium sheet. Photo by Ken Marr.
Lysimachia glutinosa
Lysimachia iniki. Formal illustration for publication of new species.

Following the exit of Iniki on September 12th several surveys were undertaken by various agencies to assess the level of damage that had been sustained. One of these involved a group of botanists from the NTBG and the Bishop Museum who visited, among other places, a site known as the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole lies at the base of Mt. Wai`ale`ale, the highest point on the island of Kaua`i. A considerable amount of vegetation had been uprooted by the storm some of which cascaded down the steep slopes of the mountain. Tangled among the branches of one of the downed trees were plants of a species of Lysimachia unknown to the botanists in the crew, all of whom were experienced field workers in the islands. They knew Ken Marr, however, from his earlier Master’s Degree work at the University of Hawai`i, and that he was investigating Hawaiian Lysimachia at the University of British Columbia, so specimens of the unknown species were sent to Vancouver. Seeds present in the plants germinated and when the plants were grown to maturity it became clear that we were dealing with a species unknown to botanical science. [There is no way of knowing if this plant had ever been seen by Hawaiians.] Since it was a species newly described by Ken, it was his to name. It seemed logical, and respectful, to name it after the force that brought it to our attention in the first place, the hurricane called `Iniki. Unfortunately, we do not have a photograph of the plant in flower, but we do have the technical illustration of Lysimachia iniki that accompanied formal publication of the name in the journal Pacific Science. Technical drawings, in this instance prepared by the present author’s wife, are required for publication of a newly described species.

A brief personal note might be of interest. In 1992 the American Botanical Society and related organizations held their annual meeting in Honolulu during the third week of August. In order to make the most of an opportunity to visit the islands, I spent several days before the meetings on the Big Island doing some field work. Although it is normally a rainy place in the summer, Hilo and environs were experiencing a very wet season; even some of the locals I spoke with were complaining. Many of the participants at the meetings were enjoying their first visit to the islands and were greeted with a very hot, humid stay in Honolulu. Little did they know that a prolonged vacation would have given them a more memorable experience than they could have dreamt of. I went on to Kaua`i for a few more days in the field, again experiencing significant wet weather. By the end of August, most of us doing field work, and most of the botanical visitors and their vacationing families, had returned to the mainland content with their overall experience. By this time the tropical disturbance that was destined to develop into hurricane Iniki was already on its way.

The following year, 1993, was not a good tourist year in the islands, especially on Kaua`i, where major facilities had been seriously damaged or, in many instances, totally demolished. We did return in the spring of 1994, however, and visited many of the places most severely hit by Iniki. The entire south coast of Kaua`i, although cleared of damaged buildings, was a sad sight to behold, with empty lots where homes had been, remnants of hotels where we had once stayed, restaurants we knew well reduced to concrete slabs, and sections of familiar roads shifted out of alignment, or just gone. Devastation in the NTBG, which lay very close to the point at which the storm made landfall, was extensive.

A drive along the highway past Waimea Canyon leading to the Koke`e area, provided a view of stretches of high elevation forest flattened by the hurricane’s winds (higher here at the upper levels of the mountain than at sea level). Even on the east coast of the island, in the Kapa`a area, which did not receive the brunt of the storm, iron wood trees—Araucaria species—ironically enough planted as wind breaks, had been torn to shreds in many cases with only lower, thicker trunks surviving. Many buildings were still off-limits owing to structural damage, and plywood window covers were still much in evidence. However, by the spring of 2007—my most recent visit to the southern coast of Kaua`i—things had returned pretty much to normal. Hotels had either been repaired or completely replaced, roads had been repaved, beachside restaurants had been rebuilt and were bustling with business, and ocean-side lots were again occupied by beautiful, new homes. A person visiting the area for the first time might well not believe the devastation that had been visited upon the island on that fateful morning of September 11, 1992.

One last word about Lysimachia is necessary before we move on to the next family. A study of relationships within the genus using chloroplast and nuclear DNA sequence data was described in 2004 by Gang Hao from the South China Institute of Botany, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, and coworkers. The macromolecular data did not allow a comprehensive statement to be made on the global evolutionary picture for Lysimachia, but the results did indicate clearly that the endemic Hawaiian species constitute a homogeneous assemblage derived from an eastern or southeastern Asian ancestor.

Literature cited…

Hao, G., Yuan, Y.M., Hu, C.-M, Ge, X.-J. and Zhao, N.-X. 2004. Molecular phylogeny of Lysimachia (Myrsinaceae) based on chloroplast trnL-F and nuclear ribosomal ITS sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31: 323-339.

Marr, K. L. 1995. Biosystematics of the endemic Hawaiian species of Lysimachia (Primulaceae). Ph.D. Dissertation. University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Marr, K. L. and B. A. Bohm. 1997. A taxonomic revision of the endemic Hawaiian Lysimachia (Primulaceae) including three new species. Pacific Science 51: 254-287.

July 7, 2012

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