Effort adds to population of Haleakala silversword

HALEAKALA – About 25 state Department of Land and Natural Resources employees and volunteers from the Maui Community Action Committee joined together to plant more than 50 Haleakala silverswords within the Kahikinui Forest Reserve on Saturday morning.

In cooperation with Haleakala National Park, the plants are grown in a greenhouse at park headquarters and taken to state lands, where they are outplanted in an 8-acre enclosure.

It is the third year that Maui district employees from DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife have outplanted the threatened species, and the second year for the committee.

As a part of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the committee chose the project because it is a hands-on opportunity that provides immediate results to preserve Maui’s environment, said participant and committee Chairwoman Debra Kaiwi.

Maui District Forest Manager Lance De Silva said that the state will plant as many seedlings as it can in the next 10 years, in the hope that the plant eventually grows outside of the enclosing fence.

“Based on what we’ve seen from what we grew last year, survival rates seem to be 90 to 95 percent,” De Silva said of the enclosure, which already holds hundreds of the silvery plant. “It’s looking very promising.”

The indigenous plant was the subject of a paper published in a scientific journal in January that found a rapid decrease in rainfall over the past 20 years, causing many silverswords to die before reaching adulthood.

De Silva noticed that some of the previously planted silverswords are reaching adulthood, but blooming after only two to three years.

In what is characterized by U.S. Geological Survey scientists as a “bloom and doom” process, the rosette plant grows anywhere from 20 to 90 years before flowering. Once the plant flowers, or reaches adulthood, it disperses its seed and dies shortly after.

On Saturday, De Silva and state workers who monitor and track the silvery plants through Global Positioning systems counted about 10 plants that had already bloomed and died.

State officials and scientists are researching the reason for the early flowering and determining if their method of outplanting is affecting results, De Silva said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.