Silverswords on tour in South Korea

Three silversword plants growing in a greenhouse at Haleakala National Park will be taking a trip to South Korea for display in the Goyang International Horticulture Show from Thursday to May 11.

The unique federally “threatened” species, found only on the upper slopes of Haleakala, will be part of the County of Maui’s booth at the horticulture show, a news release from Mayor Alan Arakawa’s office said Tuesday.

The booth also will focus on Maui’s rain forests, beaches and tropical flowers.

Asa Ige has been hired to design the booth and to travel to South Korea with the silversword plants, the news release said. Hawaiian Airlines is flying the plants to South Korea without charge.

Haleakala National Park Ranger Stephen Anderson will be attending the show as well, answering questions about the silversword, or ahinahina, ongoing research to protect the plant, and ecosystem management efforts to spur recovery.

Arakawa said that Goyang, Maui County’s sister city, has been interested in displaying the silversword “from the moment we became a sister city back in 2011.”

It was not easy to obtain permits to send the three plants overseas. Teena Rasmussen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said it took the county nine months to obtain permits from the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She added that this is the first time since 1992, when the plant was listed as a threatened species, that silversword plants have been shipped abroad.

Haleakala National Park Superintendent Natalie Gates noted that the three plants were grown in the park greenhouse and were not removed from the wild. They are part of an experiment testing the effects of climate change on native vegetation.

“The plants were not collected from natural habitat for this exhibit since all natural and cultural resources in the park are protected and cannot be removed,” Gates said. “The Goyang Flower Show allows the park to introduce this amazing species to an international audience and highlights the important role national parks worldwide play in protecting biodiversity.”

The silverswords will be returned to the park after the show and will be used in park environmental education programs, the news release said.

In what is characterized by U.S. Geological Survey scientists as a “bloom and doom” process, the 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.

“The silversword is an important native plant, culturally and ecologically for Maui, and we are proud to share it with the people of Goyang,” Arakawa said. “South Korean visitors are known for their love of hiking, wildlife and the outdoors so this is also an important outreach for our tourism industry. This is truly a great opportunity to help preserve this beautiful plant while educating the world about the impacts of climate change on our environment, especially on rare and fragile plants like this.”