Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Week in Nature: The 3rd Week in June

What's happening in Hawaii 
during the 3rd week in June:

'Āhinahina; silversword on Mauna Kea
photo: Anya Tagawa

'Āhinahina, the silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. sandwicense), is opening its earliest blossoms at Haleakalā. This unique Hawaiian member of the sunflower family was so abundant 100 years ago that crater slopes appeared to be covered with snow or bathed in moonlight. But in the next fifty years, goats and cattle nearly killed it off. People took a large toll, too, as tourists rolled large 'āhinahina downhill for fun and exporters shipped dried specimens to Asia.

'Āhinahina bush on Mauna Kea
photo: Anya Tagawa

'Āhinahina remains a bush for up to fifteen years, then sprouts a single, towering flower stalk before dying.

'Āhinahina in bloom on Mauna Kea
photo: Anya Tagawa

Hina means "silver" or "grey," so the plant's Hawaiian and English names both derive from the color of its leaves, which are narrow and hairy, adapted for the extreme temperatures encountered in its mountaintop environment.

To see more photos of silversword, visit Forest and Kim Starr's gallery at the Hawaii Ecosystems At Risk website (

Taken from "Hawaii: A Calendar of Natural Events"
published by the Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989

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