ʻāhinahina, the moon goddess plant

Continuing the travelling trend, 5 years ago my family voyaged to Maui, Hawaii for two weeks. While the entire trip was amazing with swimming along tropical fish and green sea turtles, to driving on the road to Hana and many other things. But one of the most impressive places that we visited was the Haleakala volcano because come on; how many people can say they’ve been inside a volcano, the fact that it was dormant can be left out of the story.  As we climbed further in altitude, the highest peak is 3,055 m or 10,023 ft, the vegetation present at the base of the volcano beings to thin out leaving behind red blank earth in its place. As you rise in elevation, there is a temperature inversion level where a layer of cooler air nearer the surface encounters a layer of warmer air which prevents the mass of cooler to rise any higher. Due to this meteorological event, rain does not reach high elevation as it falls between the level of cooler and warmer air making the volcano extremely dry receiving less than 500 mm of rain annually.

Difference in the environment further into the volcano

While the rest of the plants disappear as you drive up the volcano, one plant seems to appear out of nowhere, the Haleakala silversword, Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. Macrocephalum orʻāhinahina in Hawaiian  which means moon goddess. This plant is only found on the summit and surrounding slopes of the Haleakala which leads you to figure out where it got its name. Its distribution area is very narrow, only found within 1 square kilometer area on Mount Haleakala. They’ve been put on the endangered list from the 90s and while reading up on why, two major events that happened that lowered the abundance of the plant species before the Hawaiian National Park was granted control of the volcano. They were goats grazing on their sensitive roots which serious damaged the plant preventing reproduction and… people uprooting the plant and rolling it down the volcano! You can apparently never take the child out of someone as that was one of the major harming factors to the plant.

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After the area became a national park, conservationists worked hard to replenish the area with the indigenous plant and were quite successfully until now. Now this unique plant faces extinction with rising temperatures and even lower amounts of rainfall. The environment is too hot and dry for new seedlings to survive. Ironically researchers had not realized how bad the problem was as when the plant dies it remains rooted in place and looks quite similar to how it looked while being alive.

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http://www.livescience.com/26340-hawaii-silverswords-dying-climate-change.html

http://www.bikemaui.com/haleakala-silversword/

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