Common Forest Plants in Hawaii - Fun Info for a Hawaiian Hike
To help both travelers and locals learn about the flora of the Hawaiian Islands, I have compiled the most common forest species one will find in the Hawaiian Islands. These species were selected based on the years of experience I had as a local nature tour guide on the islands. The most common species a tourist might find when exploring the forests of all the main islands are listed somewhat higher on the list. Less common species are listed lower. The order is not exact, however, as I’ve added a few species toward the bottom that are locally abundant. Yet, this should give the traveler a good head start learning about the plants found in the forests.
Endangered Hawaiian Forests
As a nature tour guide on Oahu, I used to ask tourists to look at the green mountains that towered above Waikiki. “How much of that green do you think is introduced,” I’d ask. Responses would always vary but everyone was shocked when I told them that only about two percent of the forest plants on Oahu were native. That number wasn’t the total number of species but the biomass of the forest.
When walking through a lowland forest on Oahu, as in many of the other developed islands, it is difficult to even find a native species. The two most easily seen are Koa and ‘Ohi’a. If you’re in a good spot you’ll see many others, but the uncomfortable truth is that the forests are not like they used to be. Invasive plants have colonized the islands and are taking root faster than native species can grow back. Much of the forests are also secondary growth, having been cut down in the 1800’s and early 1900’s for cattle ranching.
How to learn more about plants in Hawaii
There are some great books and online resources to help the casual observer learn about the amazing diversity of native and non-native plants in Hawaii. The following is our list of top sources.
As a final note, this resource is an ongoing project. It’s something I do when I visit the islands (now that I’m living on the mainland). I’ve linked to the main species here, but have yet to create videos for all of them. If you want to help you can take some video, post it to Youtube and send me the link. I’ll link each species to the appropriate video. Happy planting!