Kauai News

UH to Digitize 55K Rare, Endangered Native Plant Specimens

Posted August 14, 2022, 12:00 PM HST ·Updated August 14, 11:06 AM

University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa student Chase Kane prepares a plant specimen to be photographed. (Photos courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi)

A team led by a University of Hawaiʻi professor is digitizing and cataloging more than 55,000 plant specimens, many of which are extinct, to preserve and improve access to one of the oldest collections of plants from around the Pacific.

“Our goal for the project is to get all 55,000 plant specimens digitized for the whole world to see and facilitate research on Hawaiian plants across the globe,” UH-Mānoa School of Life Sciences assistant professor Karolina Heyduk said in a press release. “The herbarium represents a really unique collection that is used by both researchers and also used in classes and teaching on campus.”

UH-Mānoa graduate student G Young Kim analyzes plant specimens after they are photographed.

UH-Mānoa’s Joseph F. Rock Herbarium was established in 1908 and is home to many rare and endemic plant specimens from Hawaiʻi and other Pacific islands, some of which have since become extinct. The herbarium serves as a crucial record of biodiversity and is an invaluable resource for extinct, threatened or endangered species.

Heyduk plans to employ nearly 10 students each year for the next three years to work on the digitization, emphasizing education for students from historically-excluded groups, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The herbarium staff plans to host volunteer digitization events, increase collaboration with UH-Mānoa’s campus arboretum and UH-Mānoa’s Lyon Arboretum, engage with the public through events at local botanical gardens and continue efforts to connect the herbarium to Hawaiian culture and knowledge.

The UH-Mānoa collection will join other herbaria from around the world that have digitized their collections and made them available through a dedicated Consortium of Pacific Herbaria web portal and iDigBio.org. The project recently received a major boost from the National Science Foundation with a three-year, $148,882 grant.

Chase Kane, a junior biochemistry major, is one of the students working on the project. Through that work, Kane discovered how important Native Hawaiian flora are, particularly with native ecosystems. He hopes to attend medical school, and said his work in the herbarium sparked an interest in medicinal properties of plants.

“I have a much better understanding about the medicinal effects of a lot of native Hawaiian and Pacific plants and flowers,” Kane said in the press release. “They’re just really important in the past for healing and medicine, and I think it’s something we should be thinking about going forward in modern medicine.”

G Young Kim, a master’s student in botany, is also working on the digitization project. She is most looking forward to seeing how her work will help researchers access the collection without having to travel.

“The herbarium has mostly native Hawaiian specimens and that will help researchers assess and learn more about plants from the Hawaiian archipelago without having to come here,” Kim said in the press release. “That will be really valuable in the scientific world.”

To support the Joseph F. Rock Herbarium, visit the UH Foundation website.

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