The Strange Case of Maui’s Beautiful Silversword Plant

Oct 9, 2021 | General Information

Many life forms have in various ways found their way over vast distances to the Hawaiian Islands and then have evolved and adapted to the conditions they found here. One of the most curious of these life forms is the Silversword plant that is found only within a 250 square acre area at the top of Mount Haleakala on Maui and nowhere else on the planet.

It is believed that millions of years ago plant seeds from the Tarweed plant somehow made their way over the 2000 mile voyage from the Pacific Coast of North America attached to logs or some floating material and arrived on the shores of Maui. Somehow they then made their way up the slopes to the 10,000 ft perch at the top of Haleakala where they evolved into the Silversword plant that lives here today. They adapted to the often harsh environment at the top of the mountain which can be very windy, rainy, cloudy, cold and desolate but yet lived on to thrive here.
They grow on cinder that has not decomposed yet into soil and their method of adaptation is somewhat ingenious. Their slender sword like leaves are covered with an abundance of silver hairs and they emanate out from its central growth core in a parabolic growth pattern that is designed to take the sunlight and direct it down to the plant’s growing point. This keeps the central growth core of the plant warm even in below freezing conditions. The leaves of these plants, which can live as long as 50 years, are also filled with an abundance of water.
In a herculean effort, at the end of the plants life it grows a huge flowering arm that thrusts upward in a way that it totally dwarfs the base of the plant it came from. It uses all the water that has been saved within its leaves as fuel, to propel the huge appendage which then flowers and produces seeds to fly off in the wind to find another home for a new plant. The original plant then dies.