Hawaii Island PEPP Coordinator, Josh VanDeMark, recently traveled to high on the slopes of Mauna Kea to inspect a fence that surrounds a group of wild Mauna Kea silverswords (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. sandwicense) and collect remaining seeds from the last of six plants which flowered this year. Wild plants flowered in two separate areas on Mauna Kea and this allowed for hand cross-pollination between multiple plants to increase the genetic diversity of their seeds. The roughly 8000 seeds collected this year by PEPP, the Hawaii Natural Area Reserve System, and the Hawaiian Silversword Foundation will be stored and grown in a partnering nursery for eventual return to the slopes of Mauna Kea.
Silverswords flower and fruit once in their lifetime and it takes at least a decade, often two, for this to occur. Thus, in a not too distant future, the 15 remaining wild plants will flower (hopefully, provided they are well protected from feeding animals and survive environmental challenges) and die. However, thanks to the nearly 40 years of protection, collection and monitoring of the Mauna Kea silverswords, thousands of nursery-grown plants have been outplanted onto the mountain. Many of these outplants have flowered and fruited themselves, and their keiki can be seen growing the rocks and soil surrounding them.