Iliau Loop Trail

Waimea Canyon is a very famous natural area on the island of Kaua’i. There are a couple lookouts that many people take their scenic shots at, but I like the view from the Iliau Loop Trail. As seen above, you can get just about the same panorama except here you have a pretty cool grove of endemic plants to add into the picture.

No, it’s not a lobelia. Iliau (Wilkesia gymnoxiphium) is a member of another group of plants that has radiated spectacularly in Hawai’i: the silversword alliance. And while that sounds like some Marvel comics crossover from the 90’s, these members of the Sunflower family have evolved into some unique niches not usually associated with the tropics. Their most famous plants, the silverswords themselves, are found in high alpine deserts near the tops of the youngest and highest mountains in the chain.

As for Iliau, it is found on dry ridges and open areas in dry to mesic forest on the island of Kaua’i. Iliau is usually unbranched, although sometimes it is sparingly branched. It is also another plant that is monocarpic, flowering once in its lifetime before dying. It doesn’t set seed in a fruit, rather it has a dry capsule. I don’t know if the seeds are wind dispersed, but the capsules are awfully sticky; it is possible the capsules could stick to to passing birds but I’m not sure.

The trailhead is on the east side of State Highway 550, between mile markers 8 & 9. It is a very easy trail as well; it’s just a big loop that probably covers a couple hundred feet. There is another trail that branches off which takes you a few miles into the canyon; make sure you’re on the right path. While it can be easy to miss the sign when you’re driving, the Iliau Loop Trail is worth checking out: it is a nice showcase of dryland vegetation that is often overlooked here in Hawai’i.

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