Eons ago a daisy-like plant from North America found its way to the Hawaiian Islands and evolved into this botanical marvel. Growing in the extreme high-altitude volcanic cinder deserts of Maui’s Haleakala and Hawai’i Island’s Mauna Kea, the silversword forms a moon-like sphere with its numerous scimitar-shaped succulent leaves. The plant’s heat-reflective fur of white hairs keeps the leaves from parching to death. At life’s end the plant performs its one act of blooming-at the average age of twelve and sometime between June and November-by shooting up a flower spike that can be six feet tall and contain six hundred resinous purple flowers. Then, having set seed, the plant shrivels and blows apart in the alpine winds.
Silverswords formerly blanketed many acres of Haleakala Crater. But by the early twentieth century the attacks of newly arrived insects, goats, and human collectors had shaved the population down to fewer than a hundred plants. Thanks to national park controls, this species is recovering but still endangered.
“Argyroxiphium” might look impossible to pronounce, but the job gets easier when you split the word into it two Greek roots. “Argyro” means silver. “Xiphium” means sword (pronounce the “x” as a “z.”)
Actually there are five species of this Hawai’i only genus. The others are rare, remote bog plants, one of which is now probably extinct.
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