It’s hard to imagine when the Hawaiian islands erupted from the sea, that one day they would support lush and diverse biological species. It’s even more suprising to learn some iconic tropical flowers you see today are not native to the islands.
At first, there was only rock in Hawaii’s evolution. The true native species arrived by wind, bird, or was washed ashore by the ocean. This was quite a slow process, as a new species arrived about every 100,000 years. Due the isolation of these new islands, a totally unique ecosystem morphed and adapted over time. Not only are the flowering plants you see on Maui amazing, 90 percent are found no where else in the world.
Here are a couple of examples of native flowers.
This tree is the most common native tree on the Hawaiian islands. The flowers are little pom-poms that come in yellow and red.
A relative of the hibiscus, the Ilima was a traditional lei flower, before hardier species from the west were introduced.
Hawaii has several native species of hibiscus, identified by five petals, and has a long style that grows out from the middle of the flower.
Later in the island’s history, more plant species were brought by humans. Canoe Plants refers to plants that were brought by ancient Polynesians and introduced to the Pacific Islands when they first inhabited. The settlers came to the islands via canoe around 400 C.E., so the plants varieties they brought with them are now designated “Canoe Plants”. These comprised a careful selection for nourishment, medicinal and ceremonial purposes.
Hawaiians were careful stewards of the islands, thriving for over 1300 years. Once other European explorers arrived in 1778, Hawaii was “on the map,” with increasing numbers of western traders, missionaries, whaling ships and others. Unfortunately, throughout history, humans brought thousands of non-native plants, insects, and animals to the islands. While most of these species are pleasant and harmless, some became extremely detrimental for Hawaii’s ecosystems. These species are known as invasive species. Since Hawaii is home to 44% (344 species) of the endangered plant species in the entire United States, we have a strong interest in protecting them.
Here are a few introduced species that are often associated with Maui, but are actually not native to the islands.
This showy tropical flower hails from Central and South America.
A classic favorite Hawaiian leis, the plumeria’s native range is from Florida to South America.
Birds of Paradise
This iconic tropical flower is actually a native of South Africa.
Each island in Hawaii has it’s own designated flower or plant. Maui’s flower, the Lokelani Rose (the banner pic of this article), is the only post-European contact plant. You can learn more about canoe plants and native plants on the Hawaii Forest Institute website.