The rifts of the 14 basaltic shield volcanoes that extend from Kauai to Hawaii are composed of thousands of dykes that were fed laterally by periodic leakages from central volcanic conduits. Individual dykes are believed to be thin, steeply dipping blades, several kilometers from top to bottom, that extend horizontally outward for as much as 120 km. The dykes are contained largely within the volcanic edifices, and, because of such shallow emplacement, the direction of dyke propagation is interpreted to be strongly influenced by the gravitational stresses within these edifices. Simple isolated shields, such as Kauai and West Molokai, had nearly symmetrical stress fields, influenced only slightly by regional stresses, and the dykes injected into these volcanoes had little or no tendency to cluster into well-defined rifts. Other volcanoes, such as Koolau and Kilauea, pierced the thick, sloping apron of pre-existing neighbour volcanoes. The dykes that propagated from these centres were strongly influenced by the gravitational stress fields of the sloping aprons in which they grew. Accordingly, they clustered into well-defined rifts oriented roughly perpendicular to the downslope direction of these aprons. With only minor exceptions, 8 of the 14 volcanoes forming the southeast part of the Hawaiian chain conformed to this pattern of growth; the influence of regional Pacific structure on rift orientation is suspected in only 6 volcanoes that grew as simple, isolated shields, away from the influence of gravitational stresses of any neighbour volcano.