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The silversword is a noticeable, round-shaped rosette plant with rigid (swordlike), succulent leaves densely covered by silver hairs. When a plant flowers at the end of its life, it produces a spectacular flowering stalk 0.5-2.0 m (1.6-6.4 ft) tall, typically with hundreds of maroon sunflowerlike flower heads. This plant receives more attention from visitors to Haleakala National Park than any other plant or animal because of its striking appearance and restricted distribution.
The strikingly beautiful Haleakala silversword has always aroused the curiosity of human visitors to Haleakala Volcano. In pre-park days, plants were often removed by travelers to Haleakala Volcano as proof that the party had reached the summit, a practice that eventually seriously affected the silversword population. Browsing by feral goats and domestic cattle was also a significant factor in the silversword decline, but it was not a species preferred by these animals. By the 1920's, silversword numbers were so depleted that the Maui Chamber of Commerce sent a petition to Washington, DC, requesting that a serious effort be made to save the species (Loope and Crivellone 1986).