In January 1958, a survey of alpine flora was conducted along a recently constructed access road across the upper volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii (2525-3397 m). Only five native Hawaiian species were encountered on sparsely vegetated historic and prehistoric lava flows adjacent to the roadway. A resurvey of roadside flora in 2008 yielded a more than fourfold increase to 22 species, including nine native species not previously recorded. Eight new alien species have now invaded this alpine environment, although exclusively limited to a few individuals in ruderal habitat along the roadway. Alternative explanations for species invasion and altitudinal change over the past 50 years are evaluated: (1) changes related to continuing primary succession on ameliorating (weathering) young lava substrates; (2) local climate change; and (3) road improvements and increased vehicular access which promote enhanced car-borne dispersal of alien species derived from the expanding pool of potential colonizers naturalized on the island in recent decades. Unlike alpine environments in temperate latitudes, the energy component (warming) in climate change on Mauna Loa does not appear to be the unequivocal driver of plant invasion and range extension. Warming may be offset by other climate change factors including rainfall and evapotranspiration.