“Recovering From Near Extinction”
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“The āhinahina is a member of the sunflower family and is endemic to the upper slopes of the volcano above 6,500-foot elevation.
The spectacular āhinahina, with a flowering stalk that can reach a height of four to six feet, gained fame in the early years of Hawaiian tourism. Often people removed living plants as proof that they had reached the summit of Haleakalā. By the 1920’s āhinahina, also known as the Haleakalā silversword, was very near extinction. Human vandalism, browsing by goats and cattle, and hikers severing roots by walking on sharp cinders near the plants contributed to the decline.
The rare plants flower only once, after many years of growth. They bloom in warm summer months from May through September. Each āhinahina must be pollinated by another āhinahina to produce fertile seeds. They rely on insect pollinators for reproduction and survival. In the past 20 years the annual number of flowering plants each season has varied from none to over 6,600.
The Argentine ant, an aggressive alien predator, recently established and is slowly spreading on the western slope of Haleakalā. The ant may present a serious threat to survival of āhinahina because it preys on native insects including pollinators of the āhinahina.
The loss of pollinators caused by the invasion of this foreign ant could result in a dramatic reduction in seed set and the subsequent disappearance of natural populations of the silversword.
‘Ahinahina, now protected by law as a threatened species, has thrived and increased under protection in Haleakalā National Park. Over 50,000 plants can now be found in the Park. A major threat to the āhinahina today is careless hikers trampling seedlings and damaging these sensitive plants.”
These were the words I found on the sign not far from the two plants I photographed at the 10,023-foot summit of Haleakalā on Maui.
Taken with a Canon EOS 350D camera with a Canon EFS 18-55mm lens on 25 March 2007.
The two photos were stitched together in Canon PhotoStudio.
Also by John Linton
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