Endemic Plants of Hawai‘i

Endemic Plants of Hawai‘i

The Hawaiian islands are home to many special plants and animals, many of which are endemic. Being endemic means restricted or peculiar to a locality or region. Through my time at the park, I’ve witnessed many plants that are endemic to Hawai‘i. I will share a few of these plants and special characteristics.

Lehua blossoms of an ōhiʻa tree by a hiking trail. Photo by MyLynn Phan.

ʻōhiʻa lehua, is a species of flowering evergreen tree in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae, that is endemic to the six largest islands of Hawaiʻi. It produces a brilliant display of flowers, made up of a mass of stamens, which can range from fiery red to yellow. Many native Hawaiian traditions refer to the tree and the forests it forms as sacred to Pele, the volcano goddess, and to Laka, the goddess of hula. ʻŌhiʻa trees grow easily on lava and are usually the very first plants to grow on new lava flows.

The koa’s sickle shaped leaves. Photo by MyLynn Phan.

Acacia koa is a species of flowering tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. It is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, where it is the second most common tree. The highest populations are on Hawaiʻi, Maui and Oʻahu. Its name in the Hawaiian language, koa, also means brave, bold, fearless, or warrior.

Bright berries along the trail. Photo by MyLynn Phan.

 ʻōhelo ʻai in Hawaiian, is a species of flowering plant in the heather family, Ericaceae, that is endemic to Hawaii. It grows at altitudes of 640–3,700 m (2,100–12,140 ft) on lava flows and freshly disturbed volcanic ash on Maui and Hawaiʻi. Adaptations to volcanic activity include the ability to survive ash falls of over 25 cm (9.8 in) depth.

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