Native Plants

It is amazing to consider how plants arrived in Hawai`i, the most isolated major island chain in the world. Over millions of years following their formation by volcanoes, these islands, stretching over 1,500 miles, were slowly populated by plants arriving over vast distances—blown by the wind, carried in the stomachs of a few animals, or carried by sea. Twenty-four hundred miles from the nearest continent or island group, the Hawaiian Islands are known for their ecological diversity and endemic flora. Around 95 percent of native Hawaiian plants are found nowhere else in the world, having evolved here on the islands following colonization by their ancestors.

four photos of native plants with captions under each image reading, Ilima, Hinahina, Peperomia, and Tetramolopium rockii.

NPS Photos

A green, yellow fruit surrounded by dark waxy green leaves

NPS / Hannah Schwalbe

Polynesian Plants

Polynesian plant introductions can be found on the peninsula and throughout Kalaupapa settlement. These plants are also called “canoe plants” because the Polynesians brought these plants via canoes to help sustain their settlements on the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaiians used ti for food wrappers, thatch for houses, and sandals. The bark of wauke was beaten into fiber for kapa cloth. Bananas and coconut palms provided food, while noni provided medicine and dye.

A person in a blue coat works on a fence.
A volunteer works to fence off areas to protect native species from feral pigs and deer.

NPS photo.

Invasive Species

Invasive, non-native plants are a severe problem throughout the state of Hawai`i. Within the park the predominant alien vegetation is Christmas berry, koa haole, and lantana. These aliens threaten the remaining native and endemic vegetation.

Non-native animals damage the remaining native plants and animals as well. Cattle, brought in for residents of the isolation settlement, have been removed from the peninsula but other introduced animals remain, including axis deer, feral goats, and feral pigs. Mongoose and rats are also present. None of these animals have natural predators, and all threaten what remains of Hawai`i’s natural heritage at Kalaupapa.


Last updated: December 14, 2022

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 2222
7 Puahi Street

Kalaupapa, HI 96742


808 567-6802

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