'Āhinahina - Mauna Loa Silverswords

View the interactive StoryMap above to learn how Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and partners are collaborating to replenish the mountain's majestic landscapes with silverswords.

Islands of Silverswords

Amidst the rugged volcanic landscape of Hawaiʻi, the stunning ʻāhinahina, also known as silversword, is a testament to the power of adaptation and survival in the face of environmental change. The plant is known for their unique appearance, featuring silver-hued leaves, low growing rosette form, and sunflower-like blossoms. Silverswords survive in the high-altitude volcanic slopes of three volcanoes, and can even be found it wet, bog habitats. These striking plants are a true wonder of nature.

Three Silverswords, Three Volcanoes...

A black bee sips nectar from a yellow flower.

NPS Photo/J.Wei

Mauna Loa Silverswords (Argyroxiphium kauense)

The Mauna Loa silversword is perhaps lesser known than its Haleakalā and Mauna Kea cousins. The Kaʻū silversword is one of two forms of the Mauna Loa silversword that grow exclusively on Mauna Loa volcano. The other, the Waiākea silversword, is rarer and found in wet bog habitat. Like its cousins, the Kaʻū form is in the sunflower family and blooms once by sending forth a dramatic stalk of small fragrant sunflower-like blossoms from its center. These blooming stalks can reach nine feet (3 meters) in height. The plant dies after its towering display, but releases thousands of seeds to continue its legacy.
Silversword at night

Photograph courtesy of Janice Wei

Mauna Kea Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. sandwicense)

This variety of silversword that produces pink to wine-red flowers is rare and only found in the alpine regions of Mauna Kea. The harsh and challenging conditions of Mauna Kea volcano have forced the silverswords to adapt to the environment in unique ways, similar to Mauna Loa silverswords. Leaves are covered with a dense layer of tiny hairs that help reflect sunlight and insulate the plant against cold temperatures. Sadly, impacts of climate change, and foraging invasive animals have put silverswords in danger. Signs of slow recovery remind us of the importance of conservation efforts.

A silversword plant with purple flowers on a stalk.

NPS Photo

Haleakalā Silverswords (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum)

This variety of silversword from Maui has larger flowers than the form on the island of Hawaiʻi. These magnfiicent plants were formerly abundant, but earlier in the century they faced the brink of extinction due to habitat destruction, goat grazing, and insect infestations. Hotter temperatures and lower rainfall presents a new threat to these charismatic plants. 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.


Many Hands, Many Voices

"I ulu nō ka lālā i ke kumu" - The branches grow because of the trunk. Without our ancestors we would not be here.

The Kaʻū silversword, a breathtaking plant native to Hawaii, is facing an uphill battle for survival due to foraging ungulates that love to devour them. However, resource managers within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park are working tirelessly to protect the remaining population of these plants. Thanks to the construction of miles of fencing and the meticulous efforts of resource managers to cross-pollinate wild plants, gather their seeds, and nurture them in secure greenhouses, the recovery of the Mauna Loa silversword is now well underway. With the planting of over 20,000 seedlings in protected areas of the park, the future of the Kaʻū silversword is looking more promising. The efforts of the national park crews and resource managers are essential in ensuring the long-term survival of this remarkable species.

Last updated: May 24, 2023

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