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Kilauea is still spewing lava, but there are rarer sights at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kilauea is still spewing lava, but there are rarer sights at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii are one of the main pollinators of the Kau silversword, a rare plant blooming in a remote region of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Janice Wei/National Park Service)

That big, bubbling Kīlauea Volcano isn't the only thing to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island these days. Scientists are particularly proud of two plants – the Kau silversword and Pele lobeliad – brought back from the brink of extinction after two decades.

These and other plants are endangered and known only to exist at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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David Benitez, left, an ecologist at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Rob Robichaux, a professor of ecology at the University of Arizona, collect pollen from one of the thousands of Kau silversword plants.
David Benitez, left, an ecologist at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Rob Robichaux, a professor of ecology at the University of Arizona, collect pollen from one of the thousands of Kau silversword plants. (Janice Wei/National Park Service)

Park botanist Sierra McDaniel said a good place to view rare tropical plants is along Mauna Loa Road, an 11-mile stretch that climbs toward the crater of Mauna Loa, the world's largest volcano.

"A lot of visitors miss that part of the park," she said. "My favorite places in the park are along that road, especially for plant lovers."

You'll find Kau silversword at the top of the road, just west of the parking lot.

"That's an area that we're building up as a viewing area for visitors, so it's separate from our reintroduction area," McDaniel said. "It's the only place in the world that you can see Kau silversword that's accessible."

When it's in bloom, the silversword's flowers are a favorite for yellow-faced bees. These days 21,000 plants are now flourishing in the park.

Nectar drips from a rare Pele lobeliad plant.
Nectar drips from a rare Pele lobeliad plant. (Rob Robichaux/National Park Service)

You'll have to wait a few years, though, to see the Pele lobeliad. While a favorite source of nectar for native honey-creepers (a bird), the plants – just 1,000 of them – are growing in an inaccessible part of the park. Scientists, however, are working to expand the plant's range.

Of course, the mightily active Kilauea volcano remains the key attraction. But McDaniel is equally excited by the revival of the park's rare plant life.

"Just like we have our role in our communities, these plants have a role in their communities as well," she said.

Mauna Loa – that's Hawaiian for "Long Mountain" – rises 13,677 feet from sea level. Rustic overnight accommodation is available for a limited number of experienced backpackers.

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