Sunday, July 2, 2017

Walking the Iliau Nature Loop Trail - Kauai, Hawaii

Warning: Novice blogger at work. Just overlook anything weirdly spaced or kapakahi.

The Iliau (ill-ee-ow) Nature Loop Trail is a short, fairly flat, loop trail at the beginning of the much steeper Kukui trail that leads down into Waimea Canyon, dubbed by Mark Twain the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
sign at beginning of Iliau Nature Loop Trail
Matt asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day this year. There are always a lot of buffets with food we don’t necessarily want at prices we balk at paying. We were already days into the kitchen cabinet remodel, days and nights on which we ate out, or brought home deli and ate it off paper plates. I wanted to go up to the iliau and take a simple picnic and enjoy it outdoors. We ended up going up there 2 weekends in a row.

The first time, we did not have the camera and got only the pictures I could take with my cell phone, which does not zoom. We went back the following weekend and took many more pictures. 

I wasn’t sure where the trail was and I’d googled it on maps – which gave me a totally erroneous picture of where it was. We went all the way up to the lodge at the top, almost 20 miles, looking for the trail signs all the way. (It is just past mile 9.)There is a small museum/shop up at the top and they have great topo maps, with all the trails marked.

They also have one of the best selections of Hawaiian books on the island, so we browsed books and ended up coming home with several.

Back down the mountain we went, and found the trail. What a wonderful place! It’s a common trope that words can’t describe something, but really true of this place. It has a special intense energy of its own – these cosmic plants combined with the energy of a 3,000-foot-deep, 10-mile-long, ancient canyon. It’s really mind blowing.

I’m leaving the iliau pictures for last, to view as a group. The trail has many endemic and indigenous plants with educational signs with text and line drawings identifying them. The text next to the pictures here is from the signs, which did not photograph well.

Indigenous = originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native
Endemic = a plant or animal native restricted to a certain country or area

Gahnia beecheyi
Endemic to all Hawaiian Islands except Moloka’i

This large sedge has brown feathery seed heads, which are used in floral arrangements and wreaths. The long slender leaves are barbed have miniature hair-like spines on the surface. The leaves were used as an inner lining for the walls of the ancient Hawaiian hale (house).

Dodonea viscosa

This widespread shrub has clusters of seed-bearing capsules ranging in color from yellow-orange to bright red. The Hawaiians used the ‘a’ali’i’s colorful seed capsules to produce a fine dye for kapa (bark cloth, also known as tapa in other parts of Polynesia). Today, the capsules are also used for lei making. This tree has a taproot, strongly anchored, which is expressed in the following olelo (proverb).
He ‘a’li’i au, ‘a’ohe makani e hina ai.
I am an ‘a’ali’i shrub, no wind can push me over.

Eragrostis variabolis
Endemic to all Hawaiian Islands

This native perennial grass has a wide ecological range, found from sand dunes in coastal areas to cliff sides in the uplands. It was sometimes used as a substitute for pili grass house thatching. The waving of kawelu grass in the breeze is said to be the inspiration of a swaying hula step. Kawelu is also mentioned in many Hawaiian chants and poems.
Viola Chamissoniana
subsp. tracheliifolia
Endemic to all Hawaii Islands except Hawaii
This rare branch shrub of the violet family can grow 3 to 6 feet tall. This species can be recognized by its shiny bright green leaves which are heart shaped and elongated. The delicate white flowers, which bloom from May to November, are about twice the size of common violets. Also notice how pamakani is a much woodier species than the herbaceous common violet.

Styphelia tameiameiae
Indigenous to main Hawaiian Islands
This shrub has tiny stiff leaves which were used medicinally for colds and headaches. The red inedible berries as well as the flowers are used in lei making. In the old days when an ali’i (high chief) wished to mingle informally with his people, he would walk through the smoke of burning pukiawe and thus free himself of the kapu.  

‘Uki ‘Uki
Dianella sandwicensis
Endemic to Hawaiian Islands
This member of the lily family grows from an underground stem, or tuber, sending up long sword-like leaves. From the center of the plant arises a cluster of white or bluish flowers. The Hawaiians utilized the leaves for thatching houses and making rope and twine. In addition, they used the blue berries, which appear in the summer to make a dye for their kapa.
Pukeawe and 'uki 'uki

Wilkesia gymnoxiphium
Endemic to Kauai
This striking botanical species, found only on Kauai, is the feature plant of the loop trail. It is an ancient member of the sunflower family and is a close relative of the silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense) found on Mount Haleakala, Maui.

Iliau is a monocarpic plant, meaning the plant flowers and bears fruit only once and then dies. The average life span of an iliau is 2-10 years until it blooms into an immense flowering stalk with yellow daisy-like flowers. This spectacular display can be seen from May to July.
There were hundreds of them in bloom, in all stages, and many keiki (babies) coming along.
They look like crazy alien pods before they open
Little buds starting to come out

Partially open with seedpod

Seedpod, Ohia Lehua, fully opened iliau
The seed pods have a stark beauty of their own
This flower head got so heavy it fell over and was at ground level. The individual flower stalks were furry and sticky. Iliau architecture just slays me.
Fairies surely dance here
Iliau gazing at the waterfall
Iliau gazing at the waterfall, way across the canyon

Unusual multi-stemmed iliau
Matt gazing at the iliau
Orange and green lichen
We had a pleasant picnic at a little developed picnic area about 5 miles back up the mountain. They did a nice job of not over-developing it. There is a large covered pavilion with many picnic tables attached to the restroom house, and some distance away, 4 of these little individual pavilions. The big pavilion was full of little boys – maybe cub scouts or a school class - when we got there.