Maui's magnificent silverswords.
They start their lives as fragile sprouts on the rock-strewn, volcanic soil of Haleakala, a mountain on Maui. For up to 50 years, they grow slowly into silvery globes of curved, bayonet-shaped leaves. Then, in one brief season of glory, which usually begins this month, they send up majestic stalks 3 to 4 feet tall (sometimes more), each of which may be covered with as many as 500 yellow and reddish purple flowers. By autumn, the pollinated seeds have matured, the stalks have withered, and the plants have begun to die. Botanists believe that silverswords (Argyroxiphium sandwicense macrocephalum) evolved here over millions of years from the wind-borne seeds of the tarweed, a California native with sunflower-like blooms. Close to extinction by the 1930s, silverswords are now protected, and seedlings have become increasingly common.