Hey, all you plant mommies and daddies. You rock with your wide leaf monstera, dazzling bright red hibiscus flowers, and cute succulents that can brighten any office desk. But how about giving some love to native Hawaiian plants for your home garden or apartment lanai?
April is Native Hawaiian Plant Month – a good time to learn about native plants, their role in Hawaiian history and culture, and the importance of protecting and preserving them.
The indigenous kupukupu fern is beautiful in landscaping.
In Hawaii, we’re fortunate to be surrounded by an abundance of flora – plumeria, heliconia, and orchid. But did you know that these plants are not native to Hawaii? Those plants are beautiful in gardens and landscapes. But many non-native plants have taken over forests where natives once were abundant, leading to a disruption in the ecosystem. This impacts native birds and watersheds that provide fresh drinking water and help to reduce erosion from storm water runoff that can damage coral reefs.
The endemic akia is found on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Molokai.
Hawaii has about 1,500 species of native plants and 90% of them are endemic – found nowhere else in the world. Many of them are endangered and extinct in the wild.
“If we don’t take care of native plants now, they’ll be lost forever,” says Moiliili resident Jennifer Lieu, a volunteer with Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i. “They need our love.”
Protect & Preserve Hawaii volunteer Jennifer Lieu clears invasive weeds from Pia Valley.
Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i is a nonprofit community organization that works to restore native forests and watersheds on 330 acres of preservation land that it acquired in Pia Valley on east Oahu. Volunteers also work on clean ups, native plantings, and rock wall restoration projects in other places on Oahu. They learn how native plants are used for medicine, dyes, and lei.
“Each native Hawaiian plant has a story to tell,” says Lieu.
The pohinahina grows along the coast and rocky shorelines.
Do your part to save native Hawaiian plants. Volunteer for groups like Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i or consider native plants for your home. Visit nurseries and ask for native plants, such as kupukupu or palapalai (ferns), mao hau hele (hibiscus, also the state flower), or nau (gardenia).
“They have a very understated look compared with tropical flowers,” says Lieu. “But you’ll fall in love with them once you appreciate their beauty and place in Hawaiian culture.”
(Photo of Jennifer Lieu: Courtesy of Protect & Preserve Hawaii and Ryan Chang.)