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Plants: Species

Alula, Cabbage on a stick Brighamia insignis

FAMILY: CAMPANULACEAE (Bellflower family)

Possibly one of the strangest looking plants found in the San Diego Zoo's Hawaiian Native Plant Exhibit, a fun name for the alula is "cabbage on a stick." A full "cabbage" head of succulent leaves crowns from the top of a stem. This plant is one of the rarest plants in the world, at least in the wild. Many steps have been taken to try to propagate it so that it can be reintroduced back to Hawaii's wild.


Once found only on a few cliffs on the islands of Kauai and Niihau, the Brighamia insignis owes its very survival to some extremely dedicated botanists. The natural pollinator of the alula has, like many Hawaiian species, become extinct, thus hampering its ability to reproduce. When the numbers of wild alula began decreasing, botanists in Hawaii started rappelling down the steep cliffs to hand-pollinate the last remaining plants. Later, they returned to collect the seeds that would later be grown in a greenhouse. The work of these botanists was a huge success. Today, the "cabbage on a stick" plant can be found around the world at many plant conservatories and is even available in mail order catalogs!


The San Diego Zoo has had very good success in growing alulas outside in the Hawaii Native Plant Exhibit. A small grove of them can be found flourishing in a bed of lava rocks at the exhibit.