One of the most striking features of Mauna Kea is the māmane forest. These native trees are generally found from 5,000-9,000ft elevation on the slopes of the mountain. The māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) is highly variable in appearance, growing as a shrub or a tree, bearing bright yellow flowers in late winter months.
At around 8,000ft there is a fence built to keep feral sheep and cattle out of the māmane forest and to protect the endangered palila (Loxioides bailleui). Above this fence the trees thrive, below the fence the forest is nearly dead. The hillsides scattered with relic trees where no young trees survive the herbivores to replace them. While desolate in appearance these old trees can be quite photogenic.
A striking silver shrub common on the cinder slopes and recent lava flows around Mauna Kea and the saddle region. The leaves are covered with small, silvery hairs giving the plant a silvery hue that is quite a contrast to the dark volcanic rock on which it is commonly found. The ground around the plant is often littered with these silvery leaves adding to the effect.
Native to the Hawaiian islands, Geranium cuneatum ssp. hololeucum is a member of the geranium family and is the only geranium to feature a woody structure. The plant is common on recent lava flows and cinder found at the upper margin of vegetation on the mountain.
A small shrub, most of the specimens I have seen are one to two feet high and a few feet in diameter. The leaves are ovate with linear veins and a forked tip.
The name is partially shared with the silversword found higher on the mountain, as hinahina means silver in Hawaiian. Several silvery plants share the common name hinahina across the islands. I prefer the name ʻāhinahina for the silversword and reserve hinahina for this pretty little geranium.
An attractive bush seen commonly on Mauna Kea, this shrub is common across the dry cinder slopes and recent lava flows. Styphelia tameiameiae is a member of the family Epacridaceae the plant is found throughout the Hawaiian islands and is endemic to Hawaii and the Marquesas.
As you ascend the mountain pukiawe is one of the last plants you will see, growing at elevations up to 10,000ft. Along the Mauna Kea access road it is one of the most common plants dotting the mountainside. Large isolated bushes scattered widely among the gravel switchbacks above Hale Pōhaku.
Small, upright leaved are densely spaced on the branches. The small (5mm or 1/4in) red fruits are not edible. The leaves of the plant were used for medicinal purposes by the ancient Hawaiians.