Kaʻū Silverswords make comeback in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
The critically endangered Kaʻū silversword is staging a comeback within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park due to decades of collaborative conservation efforts and a stroke of luck.
Kilohana is a high-elevation haven on the slopes of Mauna Loa where National Park Service biologists and partner agencies have re-established the endemic silver-leafed plants.
A few years ago, a member of the park’s fence crew looked down and noticed a small rosette-shaped plant growing in the dry, rocky ground. It looked like a tiny ‘āhinahina (silversword).
It was a chance discovery that confirmed Kaʻū silverswords (Argyroxiphium kauense), while exceedingly rare, were present in the park’s upper Kahuku Unit miles from any known populations. Five more plants were found during follow up surveys.
“That was one of the best texts I’ve ever received,” recalls Sierra McDaniel, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park’s natural resources program manager. “We were already reintroducing plants at two sites on Mauna Loa, but to think there could be a third population really galvanized our enthusiasm.”
While Kilohana and the other remote, protected areas are closed to the public, a new digital storymap produced by the park shares the story of intense effort and collaboration across generations to protect the Kaʻū ‘āhinahina and the ecosystems in which they grow.
At Kilohana, park biologists and conservation partners planted 330 young silverswords and more than 152,000 seeds within a protected fenced area between in 2021 and 2022. So far, the initial survival rate of the plants is 97%.
“One of the reasons the initial survival rate is so high is because Kilohana is fenced and that prevents invasive non-native goats, sheep and pigs from coming in and devouring the ‘āhinahina,” McDaniel said. “Fences are our best ally in protecting endemic plants and ecosystems.”
For more information about ‘āhinahina in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, visit the new storymap and park website.