atop the volcano — a story of survival

One of the highlights of Maui is undoubtedly the Haleakala volcano — a massive uprising of lava that forms about 75% of the island.

Haleakala volcano-Maui

Clouds cling to the volcano 2000 feet below its top, making a spectacular view of the crater possible.

Its peak rises to over 10,000 feet but is a huge depression crater 7 miles long, 2 miles wide, and 2600 feet deep.  The last eruption was probably sometime in the 17th century, making it safe to explore.  The landscape atop this volcano is stark, with chunks of broken lava interspersed with fine gravel.

Haleakala volcano-Maui

Plants are sparse here, and they tend to grow in depressions near the bases of large chunks of lava.

Only the hardiest of plants can survive the altitude, cold temperatures, and arid environment here.  One of those survivors is the Maui Silversword, a strange looking member of the daisy family that grows a circular rosette of sword-shaped leaves for up to 90 years before sending forth its one stalk of 500 or more flowers.

Haleakala volcano-Maui Silversword-

The plant looks lush, but it may have taken years to grow this many leaves in this challenging environment.

Spear-shaped leaves retard water loss and deflect the sun’s radiation. Tiny hairs that cover the leaves’ surface hold heat and moisture, effectively raising the temperature above freezing during cold nights and morning.

Haleakala volcano-Maui Silversword

Tall, flowering plumes may reach 6 feet in height, but means the plant will then die once seeds have completed their development.

The Silversword once covered the slopes of the volcano so thickly that the mountain looked like it had a coating of glittering snow, formed by the silvery leaves of the dried plants.  But over-grazing by livestock, trampling on the fine network of superficial roots, and harvesting by humans depleted this endemic Maui plant almost to the point of extinction.

Haleakala volcano-Maui Silversword

National Park service staff have replanted gardens of Maui Silversword so the population has recovered somewhat, although far less dense than they once were.

This is the story of many of Maui’s endemic fauna and flora.  Although Hawaii makes up only 0.2% of the U.S. land mass, its endangered species comprise 25% of those on the U.S. list.  Most of these species share the fate of the Maui Silversword — competition from introduced invasive species, habitat destruction or alteration, lack of resistance to introduced diseases (e.g., avian malaria), and now — threatened by climate change as the mid- and higher altitudes at which endemic animals and plants could escape the competition or disease warms up to allow survival of the invaders.

7 thoughts on “atop the volcano — a story of survival

  1. What a unique view! The plants are beautiful, and the volcano is absolutely stunning.

    You’ve done a great job on the composition of your photos. It’s a dream of mine to walk a volcano one day.

    Happy weekend and kind regards,

  2. Here’s what’s behind you. Yep, you were there.  The volcano might be one of the most spiritual places on the planet for me. I use it in my workshops. And it was a loooong walk. Sadly, no more break of dawn bike rides down the switchbacks. But saves a few lives.  Jim

    • It was so cold and windy at the top of the volcano, we didn’t linger except to eat a very cold lunch at the Visitor Center. The kids were anxious to get to the beach, so we didn’t take time to walk down into the crater. Maybe next time. I was amazed at the number of people biking UP the road to the top, since it was a pretty steep climb. It must be a pretty intense trip down the road having to brake almost continuously.

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