A rare, critically endangered fern that grows on ohia and a few other native trees was recently rediscovered on Kauai by a team of botanists.

The plant is called pendant kihi fern, or adenophorus periens. It is threatened by climate change, which is exacerbating periods of drought, as well as competition for habitat from invasive weeds.

Pendant kihi fern, or adenophorus periens, is a critically endangered species that was thought to be extinct until botanists on Kauai rediscovered it growing on a native tree. Courtesy: DLNR/2021

The fern was spotted in May by members of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program which was established in 1990 to save the 239 native species left in the state that each had fewer than 50 plants remaining in the wild.

Botanists Susan Deans and Scott Heintzman were near the end of their workday, climbing up waterfalls and bushwhacking their way back to a helicopter landing zone, when they spotted it, according to a DLNR press release.

PEPP is consulting with plant experts and propagators to see if they can get a frond, the reproductive part of the fern, growing in a nursery.

The fern was classified as critically endangered, and possibly extinct, by an International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List assessment in 2015.

At the time, there were 1,280 known plants left in the wild on the islands of Kauai, Molokai and the Big Island.

The last known plant on Molokai was found dead in 2004. And the last known plant was seen on the Big Island in 2015.

By 2019, botanists could no longer find the plant on Kauai, and the species was considered possibly extinct.

Heintzman said in a prepared statement that even a single plant can lead to the recovery of an entire species.

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