The silvery hairs, fleshy leaves, and low-growing rosette form of the Haleakala silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum) allow it to survive in hot, dry climates like the aeolian desert cinder slopes of the crater. Silverswords live between 3 and 90 years or more. They flower once, sending up a spectacular flowering stalk, and then die soon afterward, scattering drying seeds to the wind.
Delicate silverswords ('ahinahina), once ripped up and taken home by visitors as souvenirs, now depend on management efforts for survival. Park staff fence silversword-munching ungulates out, destroy non-native plants that would crowd out silverswords, and educate park visitors to stay on trails to avoid stepping on fragile silversword seedlings and root systems.
Climate change may now present a new threat to these charismatic plants. Hotter temperatures and lower rainfall may threaten even the hardy silversword. Researchers with the University of Hawai'i are actively working with park staff to evaluate the effects of drought conditions on silverswords, and preserve these unique plants for generations to come.