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UH botany student wins fellowship to work on rare isle plant

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 7:47 p.m. HST, Jul 13, 2013

A University of Hawaii botany student has won a fellowship for her research into a critically endangered plant endemic to Kauai.

The olulu or “cabbage on a stick” plant is the focus of research by UH-Manoa master’s degree candidate Seana Walsh.

Only one plant is thought to exist in the wild, clinging to a cliff above the Na Pali Coast.

“Having been born and raised in the Hawaiian islands, I have witnessed the rapid extinction of numerous plant and animal species found nowhere else on this planet,” Walsh said in a news release Friday. “I have a great desire to focus on conserving and protecting Hawaii’s flora and fauna. This feels only natural to me, and I am committed to a career that will advance these goals.”

Walsh has been awarded the Eloise Gerry Fellowship from the Sigma Epsilon/Graduate Women in Science National Fellowships Program to conduct a pollination study of the plant, Brighamia insignis, part of the collection at the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Limahuli Garden on Kauai. Its fragrant yellow and white flowers are believed to be adapted for moth pollination.

The fellowship covers her travel expenses and supplies for the field work on Kauai.

The plant, once common on Kauai and Niihau, has been on the federal endangered species list since 1994.

Walsh, who was born on Kauai and raised on Maui, attended Maui Community College before receiving her undergraduate degree in botany at UH-Manoa in 2011.

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