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Rare Ecosystems



Native ecosystems provide the best chance for a stable and beautiful watershed, and it would be impossible to replace them at any price if they were destroyed.

Thanks in part to the extremely rugged terrain of West Maui, as well as a little luck, there are still many gems of natural diversity.  Some of these sites are also rich in cultural history.



Geologic Wonders
West Maui is dotted by many impressive artifacts of its volcanic history.  With no fewer than eight peaks over 3,500 feet in elevation and the summit of Pu'u Kukui reaching 5,788 above sea level, the mountain's profiles are dramatic to say the least.  Miles of sheer cliff deeply divide amphitheater-like valleys.  In some places cliffs drop 3,000 feet straight down.  Sculpted by wind and rain over a million years, West Maui is riddled with examples of the force of nature. Many volcanic features cover its slopes but Pu'u Eke rises distinctly above the rest.
 


Montane Bogs
Scattered high on the mountain and in extremely remote patches, montane bogs are rare communities home to elfish versions of Hawaiian tall canopy species.  Ohia lehua and olapa grow to a fraction of their size and stand only a few inches tall but still produce large flowers and fruits.  Plants here behave more like their cousins, the rare 'Eke silversword and greensword, both of which have adapted to specialize in an environment where severely limited nutrients and permanently wet soils drastically hinder growth rates.


Wet Forest
Mauna Kahalawai is home to a mosaic of wet forest.  With the summit of Pu'u Kukui receiving nearly 400 inches of rain annually at its core, a forest couldn't be anything but wet.  Within this realm 3 to 4 different canopy types cover the ground. 'Ohi'a trees scour the air and intercept moisture.  Condensation from passing clouds form water droplets which are caught by shrubs, tree ferns and moss and slowly released in the soils below.  Through this process the island's aquifers are recharged.

 

'Eke Crater
Early Hawaiians considered this mountain near the summit to be Heaven's Gate, or a doorway between the physical and spiritual worlds. Towering at nearly 4,500 feet in elevation, the name 'Crater' is quite deceiving, as no visible crater remains today. The mountain is actually the remnants of an eroded volcanic cone. Measuring 1,600 feet in diameter, its rock core provides a moist impermeable surface on which unique montane bog communities thrive.  Highlighting and adorning its surface are mirrored pools of water with shimmering Eke silverswords and Nohoanu (Geranium humile).  While beautiful, it is dangerous and riddled with sink holes and lava tubes.


Ki'owaiokihawahine (Violet Lake)
Violet Lake is a Hawaiian montane lake, an extremely rare gem. Although the lake is small, only 10-20 feet in size, its beauty has intrigued residents and visiting scientists alike. Formed in the boggy areas near 'Eke Crater and Pu'u Kukui, this small lake is a part of the larger kapu area of the summit, where heaven and earth are believed to meet. This tiny lake resides on the slopes of the second wettest place on earth and sits above the West Maui aquifers that produce a sustainable flow of water into Lahaina, Wailuku, Kihei and Kahului.


Dry Forests
Fire, agriculture and development have damaged or converted 90% of Hawaii's original dryland forests.  West Maui is host to some of this dry forests' only remaining ranges. Dry forests provided many ethno botanical and otherwise useful species including the Wiliwili tree used for fish net floats and surfboards and the Kauila tree whose dense wood sinks in water and whose uses including tools and weaponry.