Spermolepis Hawaiiensis

views updated

Spermolepis hawaiiensis

No Common Name

Status Endangered
ListedNovember 10, 1994
FamilyUmbelliferae (Apiaceae)
DescriptionSlender annual herb with few branches and oblong to oval leaves.
Habitat'Ohi'a forests, 'A'ali'i lowland dry shrubland, cultivated fields, and pastures.
ThreatsHabitat degradation by axis deer and competition with the invasive plant koa haole.


Spermolepis hawaiiensis, a member of the parsley family (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae), is a slender annual herb with few branches that grows to a height 2-8 in (5-20.3 cm) Its leaves, dissected into narrow and lance-shaped divisions, are oblong to somewhat oval in outline and grow on stalks about 1 in (2.5 cm) long. Flowers are arranged in a loose, compound umbrella-shaped inflorescence arising from the stem, opposite the leaves. Each cluster consists of two to six flowers, with each flower on a stalk between 0.08 and 0.2 in (0.2 and 0.5 cm) long. The calyx is lacking in this species, but one to five bracts grow below the clusters of flowers. The fruits are oval and laterally compressed and constricted at the line where the two halves of the fruit meet. The fruits are 0.2 in (0.5 cm) long and 0.1 in (0.25 cm) wide, covered with curved bristles, and contain seeds that are marked with longitudinal grooves beneath oil tubes that are characteristic of the parsley family. S. hawaiiensis is the only member of the genus native to Hawaii. It is distinguished from other native members of the family by being a nonsucculent annual with an umbrella-shaped inflorescence.

S. hawaiiensis was first described by H. Wolff in 1921. In the past, this Hawaiian species had been confused with the European plants, Apium echinatum and Caucalis daucoides.


S. hawaiiensis is known from various vegetation types, including 'ohi'a forests, 'A'ali'i lowland dry shrubland, cultivated fields, and pastures at elevations between about 1,000 and 2,000 ft (305 and 610 m) in elevation. Associated plant species include 'ilima, Doryopteris sp., Gouania hillebrandii, and the alien plant, Leucaena leucocephala (koa haole).


Historically, S. hawaiiensis was known from Waimea on Kauai, Koko Head on Oahu, Paomai and Kahinahina on Lanai, and Apua on the island of Hawaii. Twelve extant populations are known on Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, West Maui and Hawaii. The total number of individuals statewide was estimated in 1997 to be between 2,000 and 6,000 individuals.

This species occurs on Kauai on state and private land in the Koaie branch and other unspecified locations within Waimea Canyon, Hanapepe at Kapahili Gulch, and Hipalau. The total number of plants on Kauai was estimated at a few thousand in 1997.

On Oahu, ten S. hawaiiensis plants were observed in 1992 during the dry season on state land at Diamond Head (land leased to the Department of Defense at the Diamond Head Reservation). When the site was first visited in 1988, thousands of plants were seen over an area of less than several hundred square feet. The population fluctuations probably reflect seasonal changes in precipitation. Another Oahu population with several hundred individuals is on Makua-Keaau ridge at 1,968 ft (600 m) on the U.S. Army's Makua Military Reservation.

About 600 plants were reported on Molokai in 1997 from Kamalo on private land within an area of less than 0.1 acre (404.7 sq m).

Two populations of this species are known from private land on Lanai: one occurrence on an area of about 0.25 acres (1011.8 sq m) southeast of Puu Manu had 50-100 individuals in 1997 and one occurrence in Kaa Gulch had about 300 individuals.

Three populations are known from state land on West Maui. One occurrence in the Lihau section of the West Maui Natural Area Reserve had 60-100 plants in 1997 within an area of about 1 acre (0.4 hectares); another occurrence farther east in the Lihau section of the same reserve had several hundred to several thousand plants scattered over a distance of 0.4 mi (0.6 km); and one occurrence above Lahainaluna School had about 100 plants spread over an area of about 1 acre (0.4 hectares).

On the island of Hawaii, three populations of about 500 individuals occur on the U.S. Army's Pohakuloa Training Area at Kipuka Alaia, Puu Anahulu, and in a kipuka within the 1859 lava flow.


The primary threats to S. hawaiiensis are habitat degradation by axis deer and competition with the invasive plant koa haole.

One population of S. hawaiiensis at Kapoho above Lapaike on Lanai is threatened by axis deer. S. hawaiiensis is not known to be unpalatable to cattle, deer, and goats; as such, predation is a probable threat to this plant at sites where these animals have been reported. Koa haole poses a threat to S. hawaiiensis in the Lihau section of the West Maui Natural Area Reserve.

Conservation and Recovery

The U.S. Army Garrison's five-year Ecosystem Management Plans to protect endangered species, prevent range fires, and minimize soil erosion are expected to enhance conservation of the S. hawaiiensis plants found on the Army's Makua Military Reservation and Pohakuloa Training Area. In addition, approximately 15-25 known individuals are protected within a 559-acre (226-hectare) fenced exclosure at Pohakuloa Training Area.

S. hawaiiensis has been successfully propagated at Lyon Arboretum and the National Tropical Botanical Gardens.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
Eastside Federal Complex
911 N.E. 11th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232-4181
(503) 231-6121


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 10 November 1994. "Endangered Status for 12 Plants From the Hawaiian Islands." Federal Register 59 (217): 56333-56351.