A Guide to the Plants of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is home to many unique and rare plant species. In the upper regions of these slopes, you will find a mixture of specimens native to the Hawaiian islands, invasive species, and some plants found only in the harsh climate of Mauna Kea. Here are some of the most common plant species found in this diverse environment.

ʻĀhinahina, Silversword

The silversword, classified as an endangered species since 1986, is in the Asteracea or Sunflower Family. The Mauna Kea silversword is a member of the silversword alliance, a group of Hawaiian endemic plants that scientists believe all evolved from a single plant species that probably originated in North America several million years ago. The... more

California Needlegrass, Nodding Stipa, Nodding Needlegrass

Stipa cernua, an introduced grass native to California, can be found growing around the Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Mauna Kea. Stipa cernua is a very drought tolerant grass, used by some landscapers on the Mainland in xeriscape installations. It is said that Native Americans in California used to burn Stipa cernua in the mountains to... more

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica, more commonly known as the California Poppy, is the official state flower of California.  It is native to western and southwestern North America where it can often be found growing in meadows, but also on roadsides and other disturbed areas.  California poppy generally grows from 12 -18 inches tall.  It is very drought... more

Chilean Evening Primrose

The Chilean Evening Primrose is an introduced species which has become naturalized on Mauna Kea. Its yellow flowers can be seen blooming near the Visitor Information Station and Hale Pohaku. It is also found on road sides and in other disturbed areas near Mauna Kea State Park and Waikii Ranch over towards the Kona side of the island.... more

Coreopsis, Tick Seed

The 35 species in the Coreopsis genus are in the Asteracea or Sunflower family. Coreopsis species are native to North and South America , however they are grown as ornamentals around the world. The drought tolerant nature of most Coreopsis species makes them ideally suited to growth on Mauna Kea . Coreopsis flowers have naturalized and... more

Fireweed

Senecio madagascarensis is a non-native plant which grows well in disturbed areas on road sides and pastures, and can be found near the Visitor Information Station and along the road leading from Hale Pohaku to the summit of Mauna Kea. Fireweed is particularly troublesome for ranchers as it contains a pyrrolizidine alkaloid which can cause... more

Geranium

Also called Cranesbill, True Geranium, Hardy Geranium, Perennial Geranium, Cranesbill Geranium Geranium is the name of the genus which contains 422 species of annual, biennial and perennial flowering plants. Geraiums are also sometimes called Cranesbills, because their seed pods look a little bit similar to a crane's bill. Most Geranium... more

Hinahina

Geranium cuneatum, subspecies hololeucum, or Hinahina as it's commonly known, is one of four subspecies found in Hawaii, and is native to the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaiian "hinahina" means silver (Silversword plants are known as ʻĀhinahina). If you check the undersides of the leaves, especially on a plant that's away from the road and not coated... more

Kupaoa, Na‘e na‘e

Dubautia ciliolate, ssp. glutinosa is a member of the Asteraceae or Sunflower family. Along with the Mauna Kea Silversword, Dubautia ciliolate belongs to the Silversword Alliance, a group of Hawaiian endemic plants that scientists believe all evolved from a single plant species that probably originated in North America several million years... more

Mamane

Mamane is a large shrub or medium sized tree that can grow up to a height of about 50'. Pea-like yellow flowers form loose bunches at the base of leaves or the ends of branches. Orange seeds form inside pods, and are sometimes collected and used to make leis. Mamane seeds are the primary food source of the palila (Loxioides bailleui), an... more

Mullein

Mullein, a biennial herb originally native to Europe and Asia, is now also widely distributed over most of North America. It grows well in the porous cinder soils on the slopes of Mauna Kea. It can be found thriving on the slopes of the cinder cones all around the Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Mauna Kea. Mullein was originally brought... more

Native Mint, Little Leaf Stenogyne

Stenogyne rugosa is an endemic mint species in the Lamiaceae Family. It can be found growing under mamane trees in the fenced in area at the east end of the Visitor Information Station's parking lot. The characteristic smell and taste of mint is usually a deterrent to browsing by goats, sheep, cows and other herbivores. However when the... more

`Ohelo

Also called 'Ohelo 'ai, Hawaiian Huckleberry, Hawaiian Blueberry, Hawaiian Cranberry. Vaccinium reticulatum, or Ohelo as it's commonly known, is a small (usually less than 3' tall) endemic shrub. Ohelo occurs naturally mostly between 2,000' and 10,000' elevation on Mauna Kea. A pioneer species, Ohelo is well adapted to the volcanic... more

Pawale, Uhauhako

Rumex giganteus or Pawale, as it's known in Hawaiian, an endemic species in the Polygonaceae family is found in a wide range of habitats on most of the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaiian culture Pawale is often used as a medicinal plant. Over the years Pawale has been used to treat leprosy, tuberculosis, skin diseases, heart disease, as a... more

Pukiawe

Pukiawe, a small shrub usually less than 4 feet tall, thrives on the loose, dry cinder soils around the Visitor Information Station up to about 11,000 feet elevation on Mauna Kea. It is a food source for the Hawaii state bird, the nene. The small red, white or reddish white berries are not edible by humans, but they are sometimes collected... more

Telegraphweed, Telegraph Weed

Telegraph Weed, an annual to short-lived perennial in the Asteraceae family (Sunflower Family), is originally native to California. It can be found growing near the Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Mauna Kea as well as along the roadway leading from the VIS to the summit. Telegraph Weed is considered an invasive species in Hawaii.... more


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