Who is Caly?
Caly is an individual in the Cyanea calycina species. Cyanea calycina is a critically endangered species in the Campanulaceae family, endemic to the Island of Oahu. There are over 140 known Hawaiian species in the campanulaceae family, all thought to be descendents of a single arrival about 13 million years ago. This rapid evolution from one to over 140 species is thought to be one of the largest plant radiations in the world. All species in this family have been impacted by changes brought by human colonization of the Hawaiian islands. For instance, of the 70 known Cyanea species, over 40 are endangered and 20 are presumed extinct.
Caly lives in the wao akua in the Waianae Range on Oahu, clinging to steep terrain under the shade from the plants above. The wao akua is a distant mountain region with lush forests, sustained by the capture of cloud water by the surfaces of vegetation, which collects on leaves and drips to the soil. It was believed by ancient Hawaiians to be inhabited only by spirits, and the wao kanaka just below was reserved for people to utilize resources collected from the forest. The wao akua was a special, mystical place that harbored the creation of unique species that inhabit this realm, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Today, the wao akua retains much of its mystical nature, with treacherous mountain terrain being one natural barrier to human development. However, much has changed, and some species that once thrived there are now threatened with the prospect of extinction without sustained intervention by resource managers. Continuous threats include invasive plants that spread rapidly and displace native vegetation and invasive animals such as feral pigs, rats, and mosquitoes. In addition, climate change is expected to further strain species in their natural habitat, causing species to migrate through corridors that might or might not exist in the future. Hawaii’s forests also act as vital watershed resources and serve as important cultural sites, and therefore conservation of the remaining native forests is a major priority for the citizens of Hawaiʻi.
Caly’s home: The Cloud Forest
As the sun nears the horizon and the clouds begin to envelope the mountain, the sights and sounds begin to slowly dissolve as the thickness of the upslope fog* increases. After a day of foraging for insects under blue sky, the curious ʻelepaio stops singing and finds shelter. From just below a narrow ridge near the most prominent peak around, the last remaining ʻōhiʻa trees disappear from the horizon and the city and farms seen below only a few seconds prior have quickly become distant enough to imagine they are no longer there. The cool mist begins to soak the trees and branches, and wai (water) slowly begins dissolving into the mountain. Droplets grow into rain drops and rainfall begins within the fog. More water makes its way to the soil, and Caly’s roots absorb the water. Caly and the other plants become swollen, ready for a new day of sunshine. The clouds are eventually exposed to the morning light from the sun, slowly evaporating the tiny water droplets remaining in the air. Out of the mist emerges Caly with large, bright green leaves reaching out for its first rays of the sun that filter through the cracks from the trees above.
* Clouds form upslope in Hawaiʻi because as air is forced up the mountain by frequent trade-winds, the air cools and the water vapor in the air turns to tiny liquid water droplets. These water droplets are efficiently stripped from the air by vegetation, providing an important water resource for the people of Hawaiʻi.