Where No One Will Go, Drone Makes Stunning Find

The 'Hibiscadelphus woodii' was considered extinct
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2019 4:20 PM CDT
Updated Apr 27, 2019 12:00 PM CDT

A drone hovering near a Hawaiian cliff face spotted something the world considered gone: a flower. And it wasn't even in bloom. In January, drone flyer Ben Nyberg noticed three Hibiscadelphus woodii plants on a cliff where specialists are known to rappel down vertical faces for threatened plant species, National Geographic reports. But these were tucked away more than 500 feet under a ridgeline where even the daring National Tropical Botanical Garden researchers hadn't gone. And the plants' striking yellow flowers, which later turn purple, hadn't come out yet. "We were hoping to catch it in flower, but it wasn't flowering at that time," says Nyberg.

H. woodii was officially discovered in 1991, given a name in 1995, and considered long gone by 2016. Scientists tried reviving the species with tip cuttings, grafting, and cross-pollination, but nothing worked. Then came Nyberg, the NTBG drone specialist who scans the Kalalau Valley cliffs on Kaua’i for unique flora—which exist there because it's inaccessible to people and goats, per Hawaii News Now. NTBG has used drones for two-and-a-half years to probe the area, and now wants drones that can collect plant cuttings. With any luck, other great finds await. "Drones are unlocking a treasure trove of unexplored cliff habitat, and while this may be the first discovery of its kind, I am sure it won’t be the last," says Nyberg in a press release. (Read more flowers stories.)

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