Dense bamboo forest, one of the Hawaiian plants found in the rainforest jungles

27 Hawaiian Plants, Trees, Flowers To Spot On Hikes (Native Or Common)

Hiking some of the best trails on the Hawaiian islands? Stopped to admire the views of the lush-green, rainforest landscape surrounding you?

Ever wonder what all those Hawaiian plants and trees are, towering over you and forming a rainforest canopy, the dense green understory or the pretty flowering trees, along the trail?

Lush green rainforest jungle around Waimoku Falls on Maui with many Hawaiian plants and trees
Lush green rainforest jungle around Waimoku Falls on Maui with many Hawaiian plants and trees

With over 1,400 plant species on Hawaii, and a large portion of them native or endemic, identifying Hawaiian plants and telling one from the other is not easy!

But in this post, we will walk you through the Hawaiian plants you will commonly see or encounter on your hikes, ones that are easily recognizable and how to identify them, and educate you on what threats some of these beautiful Hawaiian plants face.

You will never hike another Hawaiian trail again without being able to point out many of the Hawaiian plants around you, and being ready with binoculars to spot the pretty birds that visit them!

Hey, by the way! Visiting Hawaii? While you finalize your packing, don’t forget to book your tours and activities, way in advance, to avoid disappointments! Start here, and pick the islands you plan to visit. Or go directly to the best Oahu tours, the best things to do in Maui, and the best Kauai helicopter tours!

Hawaiian Birds of Paradise: Exotic tropical flowers shaped in the form of a colorful bird's head
Hawaiian Birds of Paradise: Exotic tropical flowers shaped in the form of a colorful bird’s head

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Hiking Gear Checklist

Many of Hawaii’s hikes are demanding, make sure you are well equipped and well prepared. Here’s what we typically take with us:

Iconic Hawaiian Plants

Silversword (‘Ahinahina)

Quick, what comes to mind when you are asked to name a Hawaiian plant? If you said silversword, you’re like the majority of us.

Silversword plant, one of the endemic Hawaiian plants found in the Haleakala National Park on the Sliding Sands Trail, Maui
Silversword plant, one of the endemic Hawaiian plants found in the Haleakala National Park on the Sliding Sands Trail, Maui

Silversword, ‘ahinahina in Hawaiian, is an endemic Hawaiian plant, within the sunflower or aster family, found in the arid desert-like conditions typical of the Haleakala crater basin in the Haleakala National Park on Maui or the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island.

The silversword is a low shrub with long, narrow, succulent leaves with dense, silvery hairs, hence the name! They live up to 90+ years, but bloom only once in their lifetime, with hundreds of flowers from a stalk.

Silversword in bloom at Haleakala NP in Maui, Hawaii
Silversword in bloom at Haleakala NP in Maui, Hawaii

We saw a bunch while hiking the popular Sliding Sands Trail in the Haleakala National Park, and some were in full bloom (June – November), a rare sight indeed!

Silversword are rare and critically endangered, so don’t pick up one for your souvenir box! The silversword plant went nearly extinct due to human vandalism and browsing by cattle and goats introduced into Hawaii.

The greensword, a close cousin, is also a low shrub of about 6 feet, and can be found on the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, one of the best Waimea Canyon hikes in Waimea Canyon State Park on Kauai.

Greensword along the rim of the Waimea Canyon on the Iliau Nature Loop Trail on Kauai
Greensword along the rim of the Waimea Canyon on the Iliau Nature Loop Trail on Kauai

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‘Ohi’a Lehua (Hawaii State Endemic Tree)

The first plant to grow on fresh lava flows, the ‘Ohi’a Lehua, the endemic state tree of Hawaii, is one of the most common Hawaiian trees on the main islands of Hawaii.

The ‘ohi’a lehua, a perennial evergreen, is quite adaptable, and found in various habitats, but in varying sizes, from towering trees of upto 100 feet in rainforests to small-sized shrubs in drier or swampy habitats.

Blossoming Ohi'a Lehua tree bush, one of the endemic Hawaiian plant species on the islands
Blossoming Ohi’a Lehua tree bush, one of the endemic Hawaiian plant species on the islands

Revered by the native Hawaiians as sacred to Pele, their volcano god, the ‘ohi’a lehua wood was commonly used for the construction of their houses and canoes.

The ‘ohi’a lehua produces beautiful, bright red or yellow flowers, sometimes year-round but typically in spring, that you can see hiking most trails on Hawaii.

Beautiful flowers from the ohia lehua evergreen plant, an endemic Hawaiian plant found on the Canyon Trail to Wapo'o Falls on Kauai
Beautiful flowers from the ohia lehua evergreen plant, an endemic Hawaiian plant found on the Canyon Trail to Wapo’o Falls on Kauai

The ohi’a lehua is a refuge for the native Hawaiian birds, especially in the upland forests where these trees are dominant.

Keep an eye out for pretty endemic Hawaiian honeycreepers like the apapane flitting between nectar-filled ‘ohi’a lehua flowers.

Apapane, an endemic Hawaiian bird species, feeds on the nectar of the Ohi'a Lehua flowers
Apapane, an endemic Hawaiian bird species, feeds on the nectar of the Ohi’a Lehua flowers

Unfortunately, in more recent times, a fungus has proliferated on Hawaii killing these majestic Hawaiian trees by thousands with a disease called rapid Ohia death. Make sure to read the signs and clean your shoes before hiking a trail to prevent its spread.

Banyan Trees

The banyan tree, though not native to Hawaii, has become a commonplace fixture on the islands, and in some cases, iconic landmarks!

The Lahaina banyan tree on Maui, planted in 1873, is the oldest in Hawaii, and is about 60 feet tall, with a huge canopy providing shade over a quarter mile circle, and a haven for the ubiquitous common myna bird!

The majestic Lahaina Banyan Tree, one of the introduced Hawaiian trees, is an iconic landmark
The majestic Lahaina Banyan Tree, one of the introduced Hawaiian trees, is an iconic landmark

Though badly burned in the 2023 fires, this tree is expected to survive. In fact, it has already put out a lot of new growth as of spring 2024!

A banyan tree along the Kuloa Trail in Kipahulu, Maui
A banyan tree along the Kuloa Trail in Kipahulu, Maui

The banyan tree is a fig tree, originally from India, that grows auxiliary roots from branches that become prop trunks to support its continued outward growth.

You can spot banyan trees on the Banyan Drive in Big Island, Iolani Palace on Oahu, the historic Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach, and hiking trails like the Manoa Falls Trail on Oahu and the Pipiwai Trail on Maui.

Don’t forget to take a few Instagram photos of this unique tree dotting the Hawaiian landscape!

The banyan tree in Waikiki is a the perfect spot for an Instagram photo
The banyan tree in Waikiki is a the perfect spot for an Instagram photo

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Bamboo (‘Ohe) Trees

The distinctive bamboo trees on Hawaii were likely introduced by the ancient Hawaiians who brought the plant with them on their canoes.

Though not native to Hawaii, bamboo grows really well here in the tropical climate, and you’ll see dense bamboo forests on many of the best Hawaiian hiking trails including the Manoa Falls trail on Oahu and the Pipiwai Trail in the Haleakala National Park on Maui.

Bamboo forest along the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala NP, Maui
Bamboo forest along the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala NP, Maui

With its pretty slender stalk, bamboo is actually a type of grass, that grows in clumps, to heights of 50+ feet.

The bamboo tree, along with the coconut palm tree, were two extensively used trees by the native Hawaiians, and bamboo was used for hollow tubes, skewers, mats, baskets, construction, and even food.

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Native Hawaiian Plants

Koa

The fast-growing acacia koa tree, endemic to Hawaii and the second-most common part of the towering canopy of most rainforests on Hawaii (after the ‘ohi’a lehua), is the tallest native Hawaiian tree, reaching heights of 115 feet.

Forest of acacia koa trees, endemic Hawaiian plants, common in Hawaii's rainforests
Forest of acacia koa trees, endemic Hawaiian plants, common in Hawaii’s rainforests

The koa tree’s reddish-brown hardwood was a staple of the native Hawaiian’s construction of canoes, spears and musical instruments, and is now one of the more valuable hardwoods in the world.

Hardwood from the Koa acacia tree, one of the endemic Hawaiian plants, is used for construction and furniture
Hardwood from the Koa acacia tree, one of the endemic Hawaiian plants, is used for construction and furniture

You’ll see koa trees all over the islands, at most elevations, and on most popular rainforest trails on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island, providing a wide-spreading and umbrella-like canopy.

The koa tree, one of Hawaii's native plants, forms part of the rainforest canopy
The koa tree, one of Hawaii’s native plants, forms part of the rainforest canopy

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Hapu’u Fern

The dense lush green vegetation that you see in Hawaii’s tropical rainforests partly consists of dense Hapu’u Fern, an endemic Hawaiian fern tree, ranging from 7 to 25 feet.

The Hapu’u fern trees can carpet the ground or form the forest understory on trees and shrubs, and are commonly found in the wet rainforests on the mountain sides at elevations from a 1000 feet to 6000 feet.

Hapu'u fern trees, endemic Hawaiian plants, form part of the carpet and understory of the rainforest jungles
Hapu’u fern trees, endemic Hawaiian plants, form part of the carpet and understory of the rainforest jungles

Some of the Hapu’u fern trees you’ll see are thousands of years old, they grow, collapse, and then grow back, in an unending cycle!

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Uluhe Fern

Standing on a rainforest trail on Hawaii, you often wonder how every inch of the ground seems to be so lush green!

The Uluhe Fern is probably the main reason, and is the most common ground cover in the rainforests, and you’ll find an abundance of this native fern as you make your way higher up the trail.

Uluhe ferns with bright-green leaves, found on the latter section of the Kuilau Ridge Trail on Kauai
Uluhe ferns with bright-green leaves, found on the latter section of the Kuilau Ridge Trail on Kauai

Uluhe is found on all the main islands, and can quickly take over trails, unused roads, and even new lava flows.

Native Hawaiians used this fern soaked in water for constipation medication.

Mamane

Mamane, another endemic Hawaiian plant found on most islands, can grow up to 50 feet as a tree, or remain stunted as a shrub depending on the environment.

Mamane shrubs, endemic Hawaiian plants found on most islands
Mamane shrubs, endemic Hawaiian plants found on most islands

Its pretty yellow flowers in spring and winter, and its seeds and buds form the staple diet of the Palila, a pretty large honeycreeper, endemic to the Big Island, and critically endangered.

Palila, endemic and endangered honeycreeper, whose diet depends primarily on the mamane plant
Palila, endemic and endangered honeycreeper, whose diet depends primarily on the mamane plant

The mamane can be found most commonly on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island as well as east Maui, but is under threat from foraging sheep and goats.

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Native Hawaiian Plants Brought on Canoes

The ancient Hawaiians brought several key plants with them on their outrigger canoes from Polynesia, and some of these like the coconut palm tree were probably native to Hawaii.

Kalo (Taro) (Hawaii State Plant)

Key among the canoe plants was kalo, also known as taro, that formed the staple diet of the ancient Hawaiians, and was extensively cultivated on all the main Hawaiian islands.

Taro (kalo) formed the staple food in the ancient Hawaiians diet
Taro (kalo) formed the staple food in the ancient Hawaiians diet

Most parts of the plant were consumed, with the leaves cooked similar to greens like spinach, the starchy roots were steamed and mashed to make poi, and the tubers were baked.

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Ki (Ti)

Ki or Ti plant is grown primarily for its broad, 1-2 feet elongated leaves that are used in leis, hula skirts, and cooking, for example, wrapping kalua pork in the imu or underground oven.

Ti (ki) plant leaves on a wild plant in the Hawaiian rainforest jungle
Ti (ki) plant leaves on a wild plant in the Hawaiian rainforest jungle

The ti plant leaves come in a variety of colors including green, purple, and red, and grow in the wild, as well as are cultivated.

Ancient Hawaiians revered the ti plant, and chiefs and priests would wear it around their necks for ceremonies.

Rich pink colored leaves of the ki or ti plant, one of the Hawaiian plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians in canoes
Rich pink colored leaves of the ki or ti plant, one of the Hawaiian plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians in canoes

Even today, Hawaiians use ti leaves around the perimeter of their house to ward off evil spirits.

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Kukui (Candlenut) (State Tree of Hawaii)

The kukui nut tree or the candlenut tree is found on all the main islands of Hawaii.

We saw many kukui nut trees while hiking the aptly named Kukui Trail from the Waimea Canyon rim to the Waimea River at the base, on the island of Kauai.

Kukui nut (or candlenut) trees, native Hawaiian plants brought in the canoes
Kukui nut (or candlenut) trees, native Hawaiian plants brought in the canoes

The nut is edible and used in dishes like Ahi Poke where the nuts are added, roasted and crushed, and ‘inamona, a relish made from roasted, crushed nuts with salt.

Ancient Hawaiians brought the kukui nut tree seeds with them in their canoes because they used the oil from the nuts for lighting stone lamps.

Kukui nuts from the kukui nut trees were used for culinary and lighting by ancient Hawaiians
Kukui nuts from the kukui nut trees were used for culinary and lighting by ancient Hawaiians

Noni

The noni plant is about 10 feet high with large green leaves and bears small fruit throughout the year, that were favored by the ancient Hawaiians for medicinal purposes.

Not pleasant to taste or smell, the ripe yellow fruit is usually consumed as juice mixed with other fruit juice.

Fruit on noni trees, one of the Hawaiian canoe plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians for medicinal purposes
Fruit on noni trees, one of the Hawaiian canoe plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians for medicinal purposes

The native Hawaiians used noni fruit juice to treat wounds and diseases.

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Ulu (Breadfruit)

The Ulu tree is a large tree that can grow to around 80 feet, with big green leaves.

Ulu tree with breadfruit, one of the Hawaiian plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians
Ulu tree with breadfruit, one of the Hawaiian plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians

The fruit of the Ulu tree, breadfruit, is a starchy carbohydrate, used in traditional Hawaiian cuisine, and is a great source of nutrition. Traditionally, breadfruit was boiled or roasted and mixed with poi.

We love spicy breadfruit fries, available in many restaurants serving Hawaiian cuisine!

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Hawaiian Trees with Flowers

Plumeria

Visited the Koko Crater Botanical Garden on Oahu in spring and summer? What a welcome from the stunning plumeria groves near the entrance, with thousands of colorful clusters of blooming flowers, from red to pink to yellow to white!

Beautiful clusters of plumeria, one of the Hawaiian plants introduced for ornamental purposes
Beautiful clusters of plumeria, one of the Hawaiian plants introduced for ornamental purposes

One of the main flowers used in traditional Hawaiian leis (garlands), the plumeria (also called frangipani or melia) flowers are fragrant and pretty, brought to Hawaii in the 1860s from Central America.

Hawaiian Yellow Hibiscus (State Flower of Hawaii)

Hibiscus flowers, also called aloalo or hau hele in Hawaiian, are brightly colored, large, decorative flowers found everywhere on Hawaii, and were associated with royalty and respect in ancient times.

The ma’o hau hele tree produces bright yellow hibiscus flowers, and this beautiful flower, also called Pua Aloalo, is the official state flower of Hawaii.

Hawaiian yellow hibiscus, the state flower of Hawaii
Hawaiian yellow hibiscus, the state flower of Hawaii

The ma’o hau hele tree is one of the endemic Hawaiian plants that is on the endangered list, even though it is found on most of the main islands.

The sea hibiscus or Hau, a pretty flower that changes from yellow to orange and red, and blooms year round, is found along the coastline, and was one of the original canoe plants brought to the islands by the ancient Hawaiians.

Sea hibiscus, or hau, Hawaiian plants found along the coastline
Sea hibiscus, or hau, Hawaiian plants found along the coastline

The Koki’o Ke’oke’o, an endemic Hawaiian white hibiscus, is a rare fragrant hibiscus, and we could smell its wonderful aroma on an early morning hike along the Manoa Cliff Trail on Oahu.

Beautiful white hibiscus, one of the endemic Hawaiian plants, with rare fragrance
Beautiful white hibiscus, one of the endemic Hawaiian plants, with rare fragrance

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Jacaranda Trees

With beautiful, trumpet-shaped, purple flowers that bloom in spring, the Jacaranda trees are a pretty sight all over Hawaii, but especially on Maui, along Kula highway or en route to the Haleakala National Park.

Beautiful purple jacaranda trees flowering along the roads of Maui island, Hawaii, USA
Beautiful purple jacaranda trees flowering along the roads of Maui island, Hawaii, USA

Flowers of Hawaii’s Ginger Plants

Ginger, cherished for its medicinal properties, and a key ingredient in many traditional Asian dishes, grows so well on the Hawaiian islands, that some species are actually considered invasive.

Colorful Kahili ginger flowers in Koke'e State Park
Colorful Kahili ginger flowers in Koke’e State Park

What you typically see in your grocery store is the knobbly edible root of the ginger plant, which can be consumed freshly grated or minced, or in paste or powder form, and imparts a sharp, spicy flavor.

Multiple species of the ginger plant are found all over Hawaii including ‘awapuhi kuahiwi, shampoo ginger, originally brought as one of the two dozen canoe plants.

'Awapuhi kuahiwi, shampoo ginger, one of the Hawaiian canoe plants
‘Awapuhi kuahiwi, shampoo ginger, one of the Hawaiian canoe plants

We saw pretty blooms of kahili ginger, one of the 100 most invasive species, on several of our Kokee State Park hikes on Kauai, including the Awaawapuhi Trail.

Other colorful ginger flowers you are likely to see on your hikes, some quite rare and exotic, include white ginger, red ginger and torch ginger.

Torch ginger blossoms, exotic tropical Hawaiian flowers
Torch ginger blossoms, exotic tropical Hawaiian flowers

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Hawaiian Birds of Paradise

Not really birds like those in the Papua New Guinea forests, Hawaiian birds of paradise are pretty flowers that look like colorful birds in flight!

Hawaiian birds of paradise, beautiful exotic tropical flowers shaped like a crane
Hawaiian birds of paradise, beautiful exotic tropical flowers shaped like a crane

Due to their shape, they are also sometimes called the crane flower or crane lily.

These evergreen perennial plants grow well in Hawaii’s tropical climate and are commonly found in urban gardens for ornamental decoration.

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Coastal Hawaiian Plants

Coconut Palm (Niu)

Found all along the coastline of the Hawaiian islands, the coconut palm (niu in Hawaiian) is a fast-growing tree with dense pinnate (leaflets on a stalk) leaves, and coconut fruit.

Niu, or coconut palm tree, common Hawaiian plants found all along the coastline
Niu, or coconut palm tree, common Hawaiian plants found all along the coastline

Though one of the original canoe plants, most likely, they were already native to the islands before the advent of the ancient Hawaiians.

Almost every part of the coconut palm tree is used in native Hawaiian culture, from the food and drink in the coconut fruit to baskets and crude kitchenware from the shells, leaves and husks, to canoes and drums from the trunks.

Naupaka

Likely the most common beach plant on Hawaii, the naupaka is a tall shrub, growing up to 10 feet high, with large waxy leaves and pretty, white with purple streaks, half-flowers.

Beautiful blooming white half-flower of the naupaka plants, endemic Hawaiian plants found on the coast
Beautiful blooming white half-flower of the naupaka plants, endemic Hawaiian plants found on the coast

Naupaka kahakai is indigenous to Hawaii, and, interestingly, some naupaka species are also found on the mountains, but with half-flowers on the other side.

View from Punahoa Point along the Mahaulepu Hearitage Trail towards Gillin's Beach and Kawelikoa Point on the coast of Kauai's Southern Shore.
View from Punahoa Point along the Mahaulepu Hearitage Trail towards Gillin’s Beach and Kawelikoa Point on the coast of Kauai’s Southern Shore.

We saw abundant naupaka on beaches like the Ala Moana Beach Park on Oahu and on many of our coastal trail hikes including the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai near Poipu.

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Hala Trees

Easily recognizable through its distinctive aerial roots that form a tuft near the ground, the hala tree is likely native to Hawaii, with the hala seeds, being light, reaching the islands after floating easily on ocean waters.

Typically found all along the coast and low foothills, the hala tree was extensively used by the native Hawaiians for construction in houses and canoes, clothing and food.

We saw a grove of pretty hala trees on our Sleeping Giant Trail hike on Kauai, right where the East and West trails meet.

Hala tree grove can be found near the junction of the West and East Sleeping Giant trails
Hala tree grove can be found near the junction of the West and East Sleeping Giant trails

Timber Trees of Hawaii

Over the years, several timber trees were introduced into the islands of Hawaii, partly for their wood, and partly for reforestation after fires to prevent soil erosion.

Mahogany

The Wai Koa Loop Trail hike on the North Shore of Kauai winds through a picturesque mahogany plantation, one of the largest in all of North America!

Mahogany plantation along the Wai Koa Loop Trail, one of the best easy Kauai North Shore hikes for seniors and beginner hikers
Mahogany plantation along the Wai Koa Loop Trail, one of the best easy Kauai North Shore hikes for seniors and beginner hikers

Mahogany is an expensive, reddish-brown hardwood used in upscale furniture.

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Cook Pine

Cook pine, narrow, tall (upto 200 feet high) pine trees, were originally planted on the Hawaiian islands by seamen in need of light, strong wood for their sail mast.

Cook pine forest along the Waihee Ridge Trail on Maui, Hawaii
Cook pine forest along the Waihee Ridge Trail on Maui, Hawaii

Now probably the most commonplace pine tree in Hawaii, the Cook Pine grows all over and in the wild.

We saw beautiful Cook Pine tree groves on the West Sleeping Giant Trail on Kauai and the Waihee Ridge Trail on Maui!

Rainbow Eucalyptus

Of the introduced trees on Hawaii, the rainbow eucalyptus is probably the easiest to recognize: they are very tall (upto 300 feet high) and large, with pastel hues of green, yellow, pink!

The rainbow eucalyptus grove is a popular road to Hana stop on Maui.

After our Kuilau Ridge Trail hike on Kauai, we stopped at the nearby Keahua Arboretum to admire the pretty rainbow eucalyptus groves, a must-see if you are in that neighborhood.

Rainbow Eucalyptus tree in Keahua Arboretum near the Kuilua Ridge Trail trailhead
Rainbow Eucalyptus tree in Keahua Arboretum near the Kuilua Ridge Trail trailhead

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Invasive Hawaiian Plants

Albizia

You’ve probably seen albizia trees, widespread on the four main Hawaiian islands and found along most rainforest trails, with a characteristic terrace-like shape that forms part of the rainforest canopy.

Invasive African Tulip Trees and Albizia Trees along the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Invasive African Tulip Trees and Albizia Trees along the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

The albizia is one of the fastest growing trees on the islands, at a pace of about 15 feet per year, to reach heights of 150 feet.

The albizia species produce a large amount of seeds that get widely spread by winds, and is highly invasive, displacing native and endemic trees.

Miconia

Miconia was introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s as an ornamental plant, and is a fast growing plant that can reach heights of up to 50 feet.

Miconia, one of the highly invasive Hawaiian plants that threaten endemic plant species
Miconia, one of the highly invasive Hawaiian plants that threaten endemic plant species

Miconia is highly invasive with large dense leaves that block light and rainwater from reaching smaller native ferns growing on the forest floor. 

Miconia is found on the islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

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Strawberry Guava

Found on all the main Hawaiian islands, the strawberry guava is a smallish tree, roughly 30 feet tall. It was introduced into Hawaii as a food crop in the early 1800s.

The strawberry guava tree produces copious amounts of fruit, that are eaten by birds and its seeds are disseminated so successfully as to become highly invasive and to pose a serious threat to native Hawaiian plants.

Strawberry guava plant produces lots of fruit, and its spread poses a threat to native Hawaiian plants
Strawberry guava plant produces lots of fruit, and its spread poses a threat to native Hawaiian plants

You can find strawberry guava trees along many Hawaiian trails, including popular ones like the Manoa Falls trail, and the fruit, when ripe are delicious.

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Discover common Hawaiian plants you may encounter on your Hawaiian vacation, from silversword to ti.

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