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Plants Of Hawai‘i


He keiki aloha nā mea kanu.

Plants in Hawai‘i can be separated into two main types: native and non-native. Native plants were introduced to the islands naturally, meaning they arrived in Hawai‘i via three processes: wind, wave and wing. Some seeds were light enough to be picked up and transported by wind currents. Plant parts that were buoyant, or could float, used wave currents that drift to the islands and wash up on shore. Birds carrying the seeds or berries in their system, or carrying seeds among their feathers, transport them as they arrive in the islands by flight.


Explore history of plants of Hawai‘i and and the work of Bishop Museum’s Botany Department by clicking on the images below. 

a table topped with lots of different types of wood.

Plants Of Hawai‘i Blog Post

According to Dr. Tim Gallaher, Botanist for the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Hawaiʻi still has around 1,100 endemic species and 109 indigenous species of plants today. About 131 endemic species only known in Hawaiʻi are now believed to be extinct. Around 27 Polynesian-introduced species also remain in the islands. However, between 6,000 to 12,000 non-native cultivated species can also be found in Hawaiʻi, and about 1,539 species have naturalized in the wild. New species of plants are introduced to Hawaiʻi on a regular basis, and these species unfortunately naturalize readily in our islands, threatening natural habitats and restoration areas. 


a round picture with a plant in the foreground.

Credit: Paul Krushelnycky, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Public domain.

Haleakalā Silversword

The silversword is a distinctive, globe-shaped rosette plant with rigid (swordlike), succulent leaves densely covered by silver hairs. When a plant flowers at the end of its life, it produces a spectacular flowering stalk that can reach up to six feet tall. This plant receives more attention from visitors to Haleakalā National Park than any other plant or animal because of its striking appearance and restricted distribution. 
The Haleakalā silversword was near extinction in the 1920s because of human vandalism and browsing by goats and cattle. The plant has increased under protection and deserves attention as the most dramatic conservation success story of the Hawaiian Islands. It is the most famous member of the endemic Hawaiian silversword alliance, perhaps the premier example of evolutionary adaptive radiation in plants.
Loope, L. L. (2007). Haleakalā Silversword. Retrieved on April 25, 2020 from 
a black and white photo of a circular object.

Silversword Coloring Sheet

After learning a little bit about the silversword above, color one in using this coloring page!

a green and white poster with words on it.

Plant Bingo

A fun  activity for families to enjoy on walks around the neighborhood or rides around the island. Learn what different plants look like and whether they are native or non-native! 

a page of a leaf identification guide.

A Part for Plants

Turn a trip to the garden into a close-up look at Earth’s oxygen-makers: plants and their leaves! Teach or review plant parts and needs, then further explore the part leaves play in photosynthesis and Earth’s carbon cycle. 

Be a Part of Our Story

Celebrate the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with a gift to Bishop Museum. As a partner in the Museum’s work, you can help to sustain vital collections, research, and knowledge, and inspire exploration and discovery with a tax-deductible donation.

a man and a woman are standing in the woods.

Barbara Kennedy, Botany Collection Manager, and Clyde Imada, Research Specialist, stand along part of the maintained trail that leads through protected native forest on Mt. Kaʻala.

a group of people standing around each other.

Clyde Imada, Botany Research Specialist at Bishop Museum, explains the botanical and cultural significance of naupaka kahakai (Scaevola taccada) to a group of visitors and staff during a monthly tour of the Nā Ulu Kanu o Kaiwiʻula Native Hawaiian Garden at the museum. 

three men looking at a piece of art on a table.

Derral R. Herbst, S. H. Sohmer, and Warren L. Wagner take a close look at what may be an ʻohe makai specimen from the herbarium during their time working s the authors of the “Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaiʻi,” published in 1990. Since then, ʻohe makai and other endemic species related to it have been moved from genus Reynoldsia to genus Polyscias, which is a reminder that scientific naming and classification changes do sometimes occur well after an organism has been first described! 

a pile of wood sitting on top of a table.

Bishop Museum’s Botany Department houses millions of herbarium specimens from Hawai‘i and the Pacific. While most specimens are pressed leaves, flowers, or stems, other specimens, like these samples of wood, are also valuable in recording the life history of plants.

a group of people sitting next to each other.

Bishop Museum Botany Department staff pose for a picture in the relative shade of endemic koaiʻa or koaiʻe (Acacia koaia) and ʻiliahi (Santalum paniculatum) trees in the museum’s Nā Ulu Kanu o Kaiwiʻula Native Hawaiian Garden. Pictured, from left to right: Dr. Tim Gallaher, Botanist; Kelsey Brock, Research Specialist; Clyde Imada, Research Specialist; Barbara Kennedy, Collection Manager; Nicholas Walvoord, Collections Technician. Representing over a century of combined knowledge and experience, Bishop Museum’s Botany staff and associates continue to dedicate themselves to recording and preserving a significant part of the natural history of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. 

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