The barren, moon like surface of Haleakala Crater may look like a lifeless place… and for the most part it is. However there are some very unique plants and animals here that are found nowhere else on earth and are perfectly suited to this extreme environment.
Unfortunately many of Haleakala’s plants and animal habitats are near extinction due to decades of invasive species and livestock destroying this fragile landscape. Years spent fencing off and reducing populations of these invaders has led to many areas of recovery… but the work is ongoing to this day. Below are some the plants and animals found here along with some ways you can help protect and preserve this beautiful but fragile habitat…
Native Plants of Haleakala
This is a plant that once thrived just above the dense rainforest at 6,000 – 7,000 ft elevation. The species was lost from the park lands due to cattle and goat grazing. Also much of the native forest that these plants evolved in is gone – having been logged during the sandalwood trade in the early 1800’s.
By the turn of the century the slopes were replanted (to reduce erosion) with eucalyptus trees which further damaged the soil with their oily leaves and bark. Eucalyptus, in there dry native Australian habitat, evolved to pull as much moisture as possible from the soil. In Maui these trees and their roots pulled all available water out of the soil, leaving a dry oily soil that is difficult for native plants and trees to survive in. Eucalyptus eradication and native reforestation efforts are ongoing today and Haleakala National Park has plans to reintroduce this silver sword relative and other native plants back into the park from found and very remote surviving population.
Silverswords, or ʻahinahina, are one of the few plant species thriving in the inhospitable environment of the western part of Haleakala Crater and on the Big Island volcanoes. Found at 6,500′ to over 10,000 feet elevations they are a relative of the sunflower but these hardy plants are still very fragile.
They can be seen throughout the summit area and within the crater of Haleakala. It’s a real treat to see them in bloom, which happens once in their 50 to 70 year lifecycle and causes them to die. Currently the plants largest threat is damage by humans stepping on root systems and the reduction of the native insects that pollinate them. Invasive species such as yellow jacket wasps and Argentine ants prey upon the native insects which pollinate them, resulting in the plant’s reduced ability to reproduce. Recently (2016) some 300 silverswords were planted within the park to strengthen existing colonies.
This relative of the silversword is very rare as it grows only in the small and confined bog habitats on the upper regions of the Hana rainforest. These bogs were favored by wild pigs who destroyed much of the habitat. Today they are starting to recover after years of fencing and eradication of these feral animals has allowed these fragile plants to begin flourishing again.
With over 350 plant species endemic to Hawaii found within Haleakala National Park the greensword is one of the rarest. Like the silversword these plants can live as long as 70 years. They also bloom in spectacular fashion once and then die.
This shrub like plant is endemic to Haleakala whose population was also greatly reduced due to grazing cattle, axis deer and goats. Today scattered individuals can be seen in the Summit District of the park. The boundary fence that completely surrounds Haleakala summit has helped preserve this species by keeping feral animals out of the park lands. This has allowed these flowering shrubs to reproduce undisturbed. Please kokua (help) their recovery by not picking any flowers within Haleakala National Park…mahalo!
ʻIliʻahi – Hawaiian Sandalwood
In ancient times the slopes of Haleakala were once covered in a three layer canopy of sandalwood and koa forests that is estimated to have stretched from the sub alpine regions around 7000′ down to around the 1000’ elevation level. The incredibly sweet smelling wood of the Sandalwood tree was prized by the Chinese who paid top dollar for shiploads of the wood.
Between 1810 and 1830 all the islands Sandalwood forests were logged to oblivion save a few remote locations. Today a large replanting effort has reintroduces these trees to the slopes of Haleakala. With the help of private companies and landowners in upcountry Maui these and many other of the great Hawaiian hardwoods are being planted. New horticultural techniques have allowed hundreds of Koa and Sandalwood trees to be propagated and could very well save these rare species!
Hawaiian mints, Hawaiian Orchids, Hawaiian Lobeliads
These beautiful endemic flowering plants have made a dramatic recovery due to fencing efforts within the park. Found in the upper portion of Hana’s Kipahulu Valley above the Pools of Oheo these plants are still under threat in unfenced areas. It shows how important the boundary fences are to the preservation of Haleakala’s endemic plants which number some 350 types – all of which are endangered. With continued efforts these and many other endangered plants are making a comeback within the park.