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Photographing the Flora of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Updated on January 31, 2015

Plants That Get Life from Lava... Simply Amazing!

Several years ago we took a family trip for the wedding of a friend, a native of the beautiful island state of Hawaii. We spent most of our week in tropical paradise on the Big Island where her family has lived for many years. During our stay on the Island, we spent an incredible, wonder filled day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It's our most "unique" U.S. National Park and, if you ever get the chance to visit it, it will be a visit you'll certainly never forget.

The park, surprisingly to many, is filled with flora that grows right out of the hardened lava. It's truly amazing the amount and variety of plant life to be found growing from rock in an otherwise desolate wasteland.

Please join me for a brief photographic journey through a park where things grow that you would never expect!

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

get directions

Along Devestation Trail

'Ama' U
'Ama' U

The above photo is an enlarged (but certainly not life size!) view of the Hawaiian named 'Ama' U Fern, commonly referred to as a "Fiddlehead Fern".

When we entered Volcanoes National Park back in July of 2001, we weren't quite sure what to expect. Oh sure, we had a tour book and some basic information about the park from our friend and her family, but since we were touring on our own, and not with a bus full of tourists scurrying from one "overlook" to another, we wanted to get the full scoop about what to see and how to get there within the park. So, after entering the park, we stopped and spent some well worth it time at the Kilauea Visitor Center.

While we were there we viewed the video in place at the time which showed, among many other things, the plant life present in the area. We were stunned that such beautiful - and obviously "hardy" - plants could grow out of lava hardened over many decades of Hawaiian sun. One of the plants we saw in the video was the Fiddlehead in our photos. These amazing ferns literally unfurl into beautiful fronds. Little did we know, as we watched the video, we would see one of these amazing plants, with a head still completely furled and one in the early stages of unfurling, on a walk later that day along Devastation Trail in the park.

Photo Credit: MJsConsignments, July 2001

Devastation Trail
Devastation Trail

More Volcano Devastation...

And "New" Life

It's been more than 55 years since the 1959 eruption that caused the "devastation" that gives the park its aptly named 5/8 mile Devastation Trail. Plant life is very slowly returning to the area. Very, very slowly. Only the most hardy of plants, like the ferns above, can grow and survive in such harsh conditions.

Signage provided within Volcanoes National Park tells us the paved pathway that you see was part of the old Chain of Craters Road that was devastated in the lava flow along with the once lush forest. It also told us, during our visit, that the lava is 2 meters thick in much of the trail area. It's simply an incredible feat of nature that anything is growing there at all, even after all this time!

The trail is an easy walk as it is mostly flat since it runs along the Kilauea caldera. It can be hot though as there is no overhead cover from the sun which reflects off the hardened lava all around. It's an experience that a little "heat" shouldn't keep you from. Just be sure to take some water with you!

Photo Credit: MJsConsignments, July 2001

Growing at the Crater Rim - In loose cinder, over yards of hardened lava

Flowering Plants Growing out of Solid Rock
Flowering Plants Growing out of Solid Rock

Incredible flowering plants growing in the most inhospitable conditions...Amazing! This and a couple of other hardy plants like it were seen near the rim of a crater caused by the last major eruption of Kilauea in 1959. You can see the craters - and possibly the plants - along Crater Rim Drive in the park.

Photo Credit: MJsConsignments, July 2001

The Best Big Island Exploration Guide

There are lots of "Hawaii" travel guides. There are even a few "Big Island" only guides. This one gets my vote though because it's made for those of us who like to see everything, yes, including those things that we have to get out of the car and walk a bit to see. The book, of course, offers extensive coverage of all things volcano related including where to find the magma flows.

Lush Rain Forest and the Thurston Lava Tube

The Entrance to Thurston Lava Tube
The Entrance to Thurston Lava Tube

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not all craters, ash, rock and hot lava. There's also a lush tropical rain forest full of flora within the park that harbors one of the most visited park locations, the Thurston Lava Tube. It was carved out by an active magma flow several hundred years ago. The tube was discovered by exploerer Lorrin Thurston - for whom it is named - in 1913.

The photo is mine from July of 2001. The two people in the photo are unknown to me; my apologies. Though I do have a photo of my then husband and son standing at the entrance, it's a close up view. I chose to show this photo to give you some idea of the vegetation that now surrounds this tube.

What's Your Favorite Part of the Park

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Have you been to Volcanoes National Park? Surely then, a memory of the park stands out for you!

What's Your Favorite Part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

See results

Take Your Own Great Photos of the Park

When I went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 2001, digital photography was still in its infancy. Cameras were extremely expensive and the images were of poor quality, good only for computer screen viewing. I took the shots above with a mid-range 35mm camera. I didn't know for sure what I was getting until I got them back from the processor.

It doesn't have to be that way now. You can get a highly rated, great digital camera for well under $100 that will let you frame the perfect shot every time. My pick for a camera that will do it all is the:

Kodak EasyShare M583 14 MP Digital Camera with 8x Optical Zoom and 3-Inch LCD - Purple
Kodak EasyShare M583 14 MP Digital Camera with 8x Optical Zoom and 3-Inch LCD - Purple

Don't like purple? This also comes in red, black and other colors subject to availability.


Videos of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Great videos from visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visit Volcano House, drive Crater Rim Drive, hike the trails, go through the Thurston Lava Tube and see the active lava flow!

Other Volcanoes National Park References - Available from

Have you visited this amazing National Park? Did you hike to see the lava flow, drive Crater Rim Drive or walk through the Thurston Lava Tube? We'd all love to hear about it!

Please Tell Us What You Love About Volcanoes National Park

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Such a beautiful place. Fascinating.

    • Tradeshowhobo profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful. The vegetation itself would be worth a visit. Thanks for the lens.

    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 

      6 years ago from Naperville, IL

      This lens brought back a lot of memories as we were there in 2001 also. Loved the views, the history, and hiked to the lava flow, plus saw it at night from our cruise ship. Very cool! Would love to get back to the hawaiian islands to explore further.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 

      6 years ago

      Your pictures are awesome, they bring me so many memories. I was only in Oahu Island, not yet in the big Hawaii Island even though the volcanoes are a big fascination for me. Angel Blessings!

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 

      6 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I've never been to Hawaii but I do love visiting the volcano here in Réunion.

    • MJsConsignments profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      @anonymous: It's unbelievable beyond description. You just have to see it in person to really understand the scope and power of it all.

    • MJsConsignments profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      @TaraWojt: She's been continuously erupting for a very long time. When we were there, it was approaching 8 years. It's now been more than 18. "Pele" is a powerful and amazing woman!

    • TaraWojt profile image

      Tara Wojtaszek 

      6 years ago

      I just love volcanoes and I hope to visit Kilauea some day.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've always wanted to go. It looks so beautiful!


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