Hawai'i's Plant Life | Maui Ocean Center

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Why Hawaiian Plants and Flowers Are So Unique

Hawaiian plants are incredibly unique because of the way they had to evolve and adapt to the specific conditions of the islands. Hawaiian plants are considered unique for several reasons:

#1: Geographic Isolation: The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most isolated landmasses on Earth. This isolation allowed for the evolution of unique plant species that could adapt to the specific environmental conditions of the islands.

#2 Volcanic Origins: The Hawaiian Islands were formed by volcanic activity, with the oldest islands being millions of years old. As new islands formed through volcanic eruptions, they provided opportunities for plant colonization. Over time, different plant species arrived, adapted, and diversified, resulting in a high level of endemism (species found nowhere else).

#3  Diverse Microclimates: Despite being relatively small, the Hawaiian Islands exhibit a wide range of microclimates due to variations in elevation, exposure to trade winds, and rainfall patterns. These microclimates support a variety of habitats, including rainforests, dry forests, shrublands, bogs, and coastal dunes. The diverse habitats have led to the evolution of numerous specialized plant species.

#4 Evolutionary Pressure: With limited space and resources available, Hawaiian plants have undergone many changes, where a single ancestral species gives rise to multiple descendant species that occupy different ecological niches. This process has led to the development of unique plant forms, growth habits, and reproductive strategies.

#5 Lack of Herbivores: Before human arrival, the Hawaiian Islands had no native land mammals, and there were limited herbivorous insects and birds. This absence of large herbivores and plant-eating predators allowed plants to evolve without the same level of herbivory pressures found in other ecosystems. As a result, some Hawaiian plants have lost their physical defenses, such as thorns or tough leaves, and have instead developed vibrant flowers and fragrances to attract pollinators.

#6 Human Impact: While the isolation and unique environmental conditions contributed to the development of distinctive plant species in Hawai’i, human activities have also influenced the plant diversity. Introduction of non-native plant species, habitat destruction, and climate change pose significant threats to the native Hawaiian flora.

How Many Plants Are Native To Hawai'i?

Many plant species are found exclusively in the Hawaiian Islands and nowhere else in the world.  It is estimated that there are around 1,200 native flowering plant species in Hawai’i. This includes various types of trees, shrubs, herbs, and ferns.


It’s important to note that this number represents native plant species, excluding non-native or introduced plants that have been brought to the islands by humans.

Discover our Hawaiian Plants

Nehe (Hawaiian Sunflower)

Nehe is a part of the sunflower family. It is very shrub-like and acts like a ground cover on most...

Hinahina Kū Kahakai

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Kukui (Candlenut)

The Kukui tree was named the state tree of Hawaiʻi due to its versatility. It has been cultivated by different...


In Hawaii, two distinct fern species share the common name “Laua‘e”: Microsorum spectrum, native to Hawaii, and Microsorum scolopendria, introduced...

Pōhinahina (Beach Vitex)

Many Hawaiian plant names contain the phrase “hinahina”, which translates to “very silver”. Some native plants have adopted a silvery...


This fern is characterized by its vibrant green fronds, which are deeply lobed and have a distinctive, triangular shape. The...

Naupaka Kahakai (Beach Naupaka)

Landscapers in Hawaiʻi love using naupaka to embellish coastal areas, because it’s a beautiful shrub that thrives in salty, dry...

‘Ākulikuli (Seaside Purselane)

ʻĀkulikuli is one of Hawaiʻi’s most salt tolerant plants, and can most often be found in wetland environments near brackish...

Niu (Coconut)

Coconut can be found in all tropical environments across the world. Depending on the species, it can range from ten...