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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2001

Surf the Web to name that plant

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

For Islanders interested in identifying unusual native plants, finding good sources of information can be frustrating.

Nonbotanists require clear color photographs to identify plants they don't recognize, but no available book has enough images to cover all that even a timid hiker will find on a walk in a Hawaiian forest.

The Internet has made that kind of endeavor considerably easier.

One of the most amazing resources is found in the Web pages produced by Gerald Carr, chairman of the University of Hawai'i Botany Department.

"Most of my 'spare' time in recent years has been spent developing Web resources, mainly in the form of illustrations of plants for use in systematics courses. Your readers may be interested especially in the native plants pages," Carr said.

Find them here, or link from his faculty page.

"At this point I have over 4,150 images on several hundred pages mostly in the theme areas: native plants, alien plants, campus plants, flowering and nonflowering plant families, and the Hawaiian silversword alliance," he said.

The silverswords are part of that remarkable Hawaiian botanical clan that displays stunning effects of evolutionary spread — scientists like to call it "adaptive radiation" — into three genera: the silverswords or Argyroxiphium, the Wilkesia and the Dubautia. They have about 30 different species.

They look remarkably different, some being clumpy and some shrubby, some trees and some vinelike.

But they are so closely related genetically that they readily cross, forming new hybrids.

It's the kind of thing that helps make Hawaiian botany a fascinating subject.

There's a lot of information, although not nearly as many images, on the Bishop Museum botany site.

Kapi'olani Community College has good information about native plants and paintings instead of photographs at its Web site.

The Web page credits botany instructor Nelda Quensell with arranging the text and former college art student Mari Sakamoto with producing the excellent botanical drawings.

You'll also find non-natives in the Hawaiian forest, and to learn more about them, check out Clifford Smith's Web site on alien species.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's science and environment writer and its Kaua'i Bureau chief. You can reach him at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.