Let's Go! Native Plants, Hawai'ian Style

As you may know, the emphasis of this blog is native plants of the Willamette Valley. The reason for this is that in some way, I would like to make a difference through my passion. It is a satisfying and effective hobby when considering  how every little native and non-invasive plant helps the environment for the better. I believe every one of us counts when we make positive choices - that is to say that it all counts.

 It is also a good reminder to think globally, beyond my Portland walls. There are an abundant number of stories to tell across the planet about how changes in the natural environment, for good and for bad, have come to pass. In that spirit, here is one such story I encountered in Hawai'i, a place you might not suspect is also suffering from changes to its indigenous and endemic flora.

As a first-timer to Hawai'i, I must say it is all that I imagined and more. My husband has been several times and decided the best place for us to spend a much needed week literally doing nothing is the Kona Coast on the Big Island. Of course, I found the nearest botanical garden, so one day we visited.

 It is the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden south of Kona. To my delight, the garden is a showcase of Hawai'ian plants, indigenous, endemic and also plants introduced by the Polynesians centuries ago. The "ethno" in ethnobotanical describes the varied uses of these heritage plants by the Hawai'ians from the time Polynesians settled here to present day. It was wonderful to learn about the early peoples of this land and their culture, much of which is still practiced and is felt strongly by today's generation.

Right up front at the Visitor's Center is a little area where one can purchase native Hawai'ian plants.
Oh, how I wish I could take some of these home, but, alas, they would not fare well in Oregon.

I will do my best to identify these wonderful plants. The gift shop has a great book - the Greenwell Guide to Ethnobotanical Native Hawai'ian Plants. I purchased a copy for $13, and I am very glad I did. This plant on the sale table (pictured above) is I believe the Uhiuhi or Caesalpinia kavaiensis, a very endangered plant endemic to Hawai'i.
See the tag:
I don't know why you couldn't plant it outside your Hawai'ian garden if it's endangered, it seems like you would want more around if possible. At any rate, several of the plants for sale had these tags. Moving on...

This is the 'Ohi'a tree, Metrosideros polymorpha. I would love a few of these glaucous beauties.
According to the book,
 The name means "many formed" in reference to the widely varying characteristics of the tree as it grows in nearly all of the diverse habitats that Hawai'i has to offer. It can be found as a 100-foot tall tree to a 1,000-year old bonsai tree. Almost everywhere you go there will be one.

They all have pincushion type flowers I believe are the graphic symbol of this botanic garden as seen in the first photo from this blog entry. The flowers can be yellow, orange, red or pink. The species is considered a pioneer species as it is the first tree to settle on new lava flows (which are everywhere, by the way).

Nice labeling, no??
Here is a bloom on the 'Ohai'a.

How about some sweet potato vine?? Haven't we all grown some form of this at one time or another?
Wow, check out this patch - not in a hanging basket, either:
I should explain the signage throughout the garden. It includes the Hawai'ian name, the Latin name and whether it is endemic, indigenous or Polynesian-introduced. Those are the only plants included in this 15-acre garden that includes some 200 species, many of which are endangered or extinct in the wild. Part of the mission of this botanic garden is to preserve species and make them available locally.

Described as a "sometimes scruffy garden" by a garden employee, it certainly has its charm.

Here is a Hawai'ian poppy, or Argemone glauca. Very hardy, grows throughout the dry coastal and forest areas. Its Hawai'ian name is Pua kala.

The Milo tree has many uses including using the wood for bowls and canoes. Its maximum height is 30 feet.
The Milo tree seed pods.

 This is a fruit of the Noni tree, Morinda citrifolia or Indian Mulberry. According to the book,  
 Today, noni fruit has become very popular in holistic and herbal medicines across the world. The fruit has become a "cure-all" medicine.
The leaves were used to cure most types of muscle and joint pain by placing leaves directly on the infected area and using heated stones and massaging to release the wax into the skin. And no, don't smell a ripe fruit. Ick.

Good to know! After all this IS an ethnobotanical garden.
If I ever need to build a thatch roof, I'm coming here.
P'ili, or Heteropogon contortus.

Loulu - palms.
And here's the Loulu palm tree. Quite striking, endemic - the only genus of palms (Pritchardia spp.) native to Hawai'i. There are 19 Hawaiian species of Pritchardia, nine of which are endangered or threatened. The garden is responsible for propagation of Pritchardia affinis (one species of nine they are responsible for), and have grown thousands of plants that have been planted, sold or given away to aid in its recovery.

Here is a FAB groundcover, Jacquemotia ovalifolia ssp. sandwicensis. Endemic, pale blue flowers. I would love to be able to grow this.
Pa'u-o-Hi'iaka, I can see why you are a popular groundcover.

Here's a sweet bee colony...there were many bees buzzing around. We've also seen bumble bees the size of hummingbirds around here. No kidding.

There's a honey bee who stayed a long long time at this flower.

This is the Ma'o tree, otherwise known as Hawai'ian cotton or Bossypium tomentosum. It is endemic and vulnerable. This plant was used for cotton-type products like cotton swabs and also a green dye can be extracted from it.

Cyperus javanicus, or 'Ahu'awa, indigenous. Cool seed heads. Often used for fibers.

Hibiscus bracenridgei - state flower.
This is the endangered Hibiscus brackenridgei. The official state flower. Ma'o hau hele, which is a large dry-forest shrub. Quite different from the hibiscus relative that prefers wetter lands.

This is Abutilon menziesii, or Ko'oloa'ula.
Endangered and as the sign reads--it is no longer found in wild Hawai'i.

OK, good to know!

A beautiful fern, I did not get the name, unfortunately.

The Koki'o plant or Kokia drynarioides, endangered and endemic to Hawai'i. It is a hibiscus species, at one time with only four known plants left in the wild. Some fifteen years ago, seeds were provided to the Amy Greenwell Garden and since then, the garden has grown thousands of seedlings. They have been so successful that they also make them available to home owners and landscapers. The bloom on this (not in flower when we visited) is bright red.

This is the Maiapilo or Hawai'ian caper bush. It is endemic and vulnerable. It grows on lava in the coastal areas of the Big Island, the flowers are heavily purfumed and last only one day.
Apparently edible caper-like fruits are produced on this shrub.

I am fairly certain this is the 'A'ali'i or Dodonaea viscosa, an indigenous plant, one of the first to inhabit new lava flows. 
Here are its seed heads, dried. When they are younger they look to be red in color and are often used in lei making.

The forest floor.

The breadfruit tree, 'Ulu, Artocarpus altilis, Polynesian-introduced.

Ah, yes, Cordyline. So many uses!
Cordyline fruticosa, a Polynesian introduction.

More of the gardens.

Here's a case where the common name is misleading, at least to this Pacific Northwest gardener. It's a common sword fern (not Polystichum munitum), but Kuukupu, its Latin name is Nephrolepis exaltata subs. hawaiiensis. Endemic to the area.

Sugar cane, or Ko, Polynesian-introduced.

Koa or Acacia koa used for its wood.
Koa is king around here...used to make surfboards.

Ohi'a 'ai, a Polynesian-introduced species, otherwise known as the mountain apple. Syzygium malaccense, in the Myrtle family.
Pretty blooms on the mountain apple. The fruit has to be eaten within hours of picking, it will not stay fresh, apparently. This is a favorite fruit of the Hawai'ian people. It also has many medicinal uses including helping to fight external infections and throat disorders.

 Hibiscus waimeae:
The only fragrant hibiscus on the planet. Endemic to Hawai'i. Why did I not heed the sign and smell the flowers? Silly me. I was photographing, no time to smell pretty hibiscus.

Hawai'ian tree fern, Hapu'u or Cibotium spp.

David was my model to demonstrate scale. Wow, this bamboo was easily 30' high. 

Poor Hawai'ian crow, now extinct in the wild.
 The Ho'awa tree, endemic to Hawai'i. Sometimes called the Hawai'an magnolia. It is actually a Pittosporum.
Here are the seed of the Ho'awa, or Pittosporum hosmeri.

Unfortunately I did not get the name of this tree with its odd seeds, but they are quite interesting all the same.

Some people from the Department of Land and Natural Resources were visiting, I think they were the ones giving a free (with admission) guided tour. If I go back I will definitely take the tour. At the time, the husband was hearing some fish taco truck down the street calling to him. In our household, taco trucks come first when David is around. 

This garden has literally hundreds more species, I have only scratched the surface here. It is definitely worth the visit and has a great mission: to preserve, explore and share. They do all three with abundance.

 That seems to be the story, that the people of Hawai'i care and are making a concerted effort to make things right with their bit of paradise. That's a story worth telling. There are many other examples of this kind of effort, you see it everywhere here, from the labeling of invasive and native plants while out and about in the parks, literature, plant seeds in stores, "no spraying" signs all over front yards, to the way people treat one another, that is to say with kindness. Mahalo, Hawai'i.

That's my report from the fabulous Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden on the Big Island of Hawai'i. My ticket is good for a week....maybe I can sneak back there! Next week, stay tuned for some of the other flora of Hawai'i, there is so much to see here, it will be a challenge to get it all in one post. There will also be a visit to a nursery in the mix, stay tuned for that.

Until next week thank you for reading and happy gardening! Mahalo, and be kind to one another.


  1. What fun it is to see Hawaii from a gardener's perspective...and very well documented.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Ricki - it was a big blog post, to be sure but very educational for me. Great plants in Hawai'i!

  2. Anonymous6:28 PM PDT

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Anonymous6:00 AM PDT

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Anonymous4:03 PM PDT

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Anonymous6:12 PM PDT

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts