Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sand, surf, `n silverswords.

This morning, due to the excellent weather, I went to the beach for the first time since last August. I then discovered that I have a strong case of thalassophobia, which I just managed to hold off long enough to go swimming for 15 minutes, followed by happy tide-pooling for an hour and half afterwards.

I love the tide pools around here, so full of interesting little creatures! I saw so many fish of so many kinds today that I can't keep them all straight. I found a limpet nearly the size of a golf ball several feet above the water (and yes, it easily resisted my puny efforts to unseat it), lots of little snails (mostly of the Nerite family), and my personal favorite: hermit crabs!

Many moons ago, back in California, I used to keep hermit crabs as pets, and they never failed to amuse me with their antics (or amaze me with their Houdini-like ability to escape). Here, you can walk up to most any tide pool and see them skittering and climbing around in it. They use all different kinds of snail shells, often giving them a clownish and humorous appearance.

Anyway, I promised to write about my Mauna Kea trip last week, so here we go. I went out to see the silverswords (`āhinahina) last Saturday, and was fortunate enough to find one in bloom. Each rosette of a silversword may grow anywhere from 5 to 20 years before flowering, after which it dies, so I was quite thrilled to see one.

Argyroxiphium sandwicense in flower. (from the Greek, argyrion, silver, and xiphius, sword. And sandwicense from the name given to the Hawaiian islands by James Cook in the 1770's)

While bending over to get a closeup photo of the flowers, I made a startling discovery: silversword flowers smell really good!

You can clearly see that these plants are in the sunflower (and marigold) family, Asteraceae.
This was a startling discovery to me because I'd read a bit about silverswords before seeing them for the first time, and nowhere was it mentioned that the flowers had any noticeable scent. I couldn't place what the scent reminded me of at the time, but while writing this post I realized that it was remarkably similar to the scent of sunflowers, just a bit sweeter. It's a fairly strong scent too, as I discovered just by bending down to take a picture. I'd guess the strength of the smell is only a little less than that of a typical rose. I don't know how many times I'll ever have this opportunity again considering the rarity of flowering, so I'm quite glad I've been able to enjoy the fragrant odor of a silversword in blossom.

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