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Photographer's Note

SilverSwords

Continuing from yesterday, this photo was taken near the bottom of the Ka Lu'u o ka' O'o hike which descends 1400 feet into the Haleakala Crater. The elevation here is about 8500 feet. As you hike into the crater, the views are so similar to the images of Mars returned by the NASA rover that you expect to encounter the vehicle behind one of the many rocks. We saw no Martian Rover, but we did encounter an alien species.

The Haleakala Silversword plant, Argyroxiphium sandwicense macrocephalum, is extremely rare and only grows in the cinders of the Haleakala volcano crater above 6800 foot elevation, so it is truly an alien elsewhere on earth. It is a distant relative of the sunflower plant and descends from a California Tarweed blown here millions of years ago.

For 15 to 50 years the plant grows as a small bush (left), then, it flowers once and dies (monocarpic). The flower can be as tall as 2 meters (6 feet).

“The rosettes of the sword-shaped leaves are covered with silvery hairs that reflect light and heat and provide insulation against the intense solar radiation and extreme aridity of this 10,000 foot (3,000 m) volcanic mountain. In addition, the leaves contain air spaces filled with a gelatinous substance that absorbs and stores large quantities of water during the intervels between rains. This stored water is especially important when the plant blooms, because the fast-growing flower stalk requires a lot of moisture as it develops into a massive inflorescence.” - http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0903b.htm

At one time, these plants were so plentiful around the peak of Mount Haleakala that they gave the mountain a silver glow, as if bathed in moonlight. The Hawaiian name for the plant, ahinahina, means gray. In the 1920s they grew close to extinction due to vandalism (hikers used to bring back plants as proof they had reached the summit) and grazing feral ungulates. Thanks to being protected, they are now found in small numbers.

More information is available on the Haleakala National Park Web Site.

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Cropped. NeatImage noise removal.

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Additional Photos by Peter Jennings (Geo) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 208 W: 55 N: 182] (1245)
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