Why Native Plants?


Native Hawaiian plants arrived on the islands by natural means, specifically by wind, ocean currents and birds. Native plants are either indigenous (occurring naturally in Hawaii and other locations) or endemic (found only in the Hawaiian Islands). It is significant to note that the majority of native Hawaiian plants are endemic.

In Laʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants, Isabella Abbott posits that, "Hawaiian culture depends on plants and still depends on them today … recreating the past is impossible, but it is within our reach to stem the loss of both cultural information and traditional plants to promote genuine continuity with old Hawaii." According to Abbott and Beatrice Krause (Plants in Hawaiian Culture), native plants played a vital role in all aspects of life related to ancient Hawaiian culture.

Learning about native Hawaiian plants and their uses have the capacity to connect us to Hawaiʻi's cultural past. The echoes of the past can resonate today as we understand, appreciate and grow native Hawaiian plants.

leafReasons to Grow Native Plants

There are a number of compelling reasons to learn about and grow native plants:

  • Our flora are the most endangered in the world, due in part to land development and the overwhelming spread of invasive species.
  • Native plants grown in their proper zones will be able to flourish with much less water than many exotic species, resulting in lower water usage.
  • Once native plants are established on a site, they require less maintenance than non-native plants. Less fertilization and pruning is needed.
  • In this age of the internet, global information overload and cultural disconnect, it is important to find ways that can help establish a sense of identity and place for the people of Hawaiʻi. About 90% of our flora is found nowhere else in the world. Including native plants in the landscape can strengthen our unique identity.
  • Awareness of native Hawaiian plants will increase important cultural understanding, appreciation and respect for Hawaiian history and culture.

leafState Laws Governing Cultivated Threatened and Endangered Native Plants

  • Never plant cultivated native plants back into the wild. We need to keep the wild populations genetically the same and not change them by introducing different genetic strains or diseases or pests which can be transferred by cultivated strains.
  • Never collect seeds or plants from the wild. Collecting plants only further decreases the wild populations and they do not transplant well. Seeds should be obtained through botanic gardens, nursery stock and from private gardens where they are being legally grown.
  • You may sell endangered or threatened native plant species legally only if you apply for and are approved a threatened and endangered plant tag permit. Required information includes where the parent stock originated. A 5 cent red T&E plant tag is required for each individual plant from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. This gives the buyer important information about the plant and makes the sale legal.
  • An individual may give away free a native endangered plant. If a plant is given as a gift please include a T&E plant tag as this is required for all cultivated T&E plants.