Maui No Ka 'Oi

We had a very memorable vacation in Maui in April 2004. Even though I lived in Hawaii for 10 years, going back still is magical. I hadn't been to Maui since 1985, so it was surprising to see how much more developed it had become. Although there's tons of tourists, it's still easy to get away from them.

We stayed in Kihei, on the west side of the island, with a view towards Lana'i. We had three main goals--beaching, snorkeling, and photographing some native plants. The developed parts of the island are of course full of beautiful plants--plumeria, ginger, coral trees, jacaranda, spider lilies, and other tropical plants--but none of them is native to Hawaii. Much of the native flora has been lost: although Hawaii is only 0.2% of the US land mass, it is home to 72% of the species already extinct in the US, and 75% of the endangered species. So you won't see a lot of natives every day.

We found about 15 native species in the short time we weren't at the beach. The one I was most anxious to see was ahinahina (Argyroxiphium sandwicense), a sunflower relative, which lives only on the upper slopes of Haleakala volcano.

It grows right in the middle of cinder and lava fields, and like its look-a-like Echium wildpretii, it is monocarpic. It's threatened by the introduction of Argentine ants, which are predators to the ground-living insects that pollinate the plant.

Here's its favored home, at 10,000 ft:


We found some other cool species on Haleakala. Here's pukiawe (Styphelia tameiameiae) hanging on the edge of the crater:

There's also a lot of kukaenene (Coprosma ernodeoides) on the upper slopes. The berries are a favored food of the endangered nene goose.

'Ohelo (Vaccinium reticulatum) is another common one. Though new growth is markedly red, the large red branch areas are actually diseased with a basidiomycete.

A pioneer plant in new lava areas is kupaoa (Daubautia menziesii), a relative of the ahinahina. This one was on a slope above me.

Mamane (Sophora chrysophylla) is a pea relative. The seed pods have long wings. This plant became quite rare when goats and feral pigs still browsed the area.

My other favorite is hinahina (Geranium cuneatum ssp. tridens), an arborescent geranium. It's the silvery-leaved shrub in front. The leaves are covered in tiny hairs that reflect the intense sunlight at this altitude (this one was taken at 8500 ft)

Down at 3500 ft, I found a 'ama'u (Sadleria cyatheoides). The new fronds are red:

Further down at sea level, I found some natives along the coast. This is a common beach plant, pohuehue (Ipomoea pes-caprae), of the morning glory family:

It's often found with naupaka (Scaevola taccada), which are much shorter along the beach than inland. This stand was in flower with its white "half" flowers.

In a more remote location, I found another morning glory relative, kolali'awa (Ipomoea indica), growing with some 'ilima (Sida fallax). 'Ilima leis made from thousands of these orange flowers are the most prestigious, and used to only be worn by nobility. 'Ilima is the flower of Oahu.

I couldn't find a hala (Pandanus tectorius) in habitat, but happened on one at a shopping center.


I'll be looking for more in 2005!

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