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Endangered plant makes a comeback on Maunakea

Jane Peterson
Jane Peterson

The endangered silverswords are making a recovery on Maunakea.

The introduction of hooved animals on the Hawaiʻi Island mountain in the late 1700s nearly brought the native plant to extinction.

The endemic silverswords, also known as ʻāhinahina, were listed as an endangered species at high risk of extinction in 1986.

Now, more than 100 seedlings are flourishing in the Center for Maunakea Stewardship’s greenhouse — growing up to lengths of 3.7 feet.

CMS began a native plant restoration project around the visitor area in 2019. CMS land stewards have propagated thousands of native plants such as māmane, ʻāweoweo, ʻenaʻena, pāwale, pūkiawe, dubautia arborea (Maunakea Dubautia) and native grasses.

"There’s no words that can express how my heart feels to see this happening and to know that the silversword hopefully will be preserved for generations to come," said CMS native plant restoration specialist Patty Heidenfeldt.

Silverswords can survive the harsh climate and high altitude of Maunakea and Haleakalā, but their shallow roots can be easily crushed.

"To see the harsh weather come in, the ice on the ground and ice in their pots and to see them just love that environment, was a real surprise to me," Heidenfeldt said.

CMS plans to create a working classroom at mid-level elevation on Maunakea for UH student interns and field trips for K-12 students. The classrooms would focus on native conservation.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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