Over 180 species of plants can be found along the trails and coastlines. The plants found in the park have varied life histories. Some evolved in Hawaii, adapting to life in our isolated island chain. Others were brought to Hawaii by the first Polynesians to arrive here, providing them with the plants needed for food, medicine and clothing. Still other more recent introductions are out-competing our native flora, and posing a threat to our archeological treasures.
A native species is one that occurs naturally within an area, arriving naturally without human assistance. In the isolated volcanic Hawaiian archipelago, these are species that arrived via the three Ws:
Native species can be further divided into endemic or non-endemic.
Endemic species are plants and animals that exist only in one geographic region. In the Hawaiian Islands, endemic species are species that can only be found in Hawaii or in nearby waters. Nearly 90% of all native species in the Hawaiian ecosystem are endemic or found nowhere else in the world.
Polynesian voyagers brought plants and animals that were important to their daily lives with them on their journeys to the Islands. These introductions were intentional and were meticulously managed by the kapu system and the maka’āinana (commoners) who tended to the land. Introduced species were used (and still are today!) as food, medicine, materials, and more! These plant species are sometimes called "canoe plants" or "Polynesian Heritage Plants".
Invasive species are species that were introduced from outside ecosystems and are harmful to the native ecosystem, environment, and/or human health. In Hawaii, invasive species pose a particularly large risk for native species as many of species have evolved without the defense mechanisms that many mainland species have. Because of this, many invasive species outcompete and overtake the native species, giving Hawaii the unfortunate nickname of the “Endangered Species Capital of the World”.
Plant Species Observed in the Park
Lāʻau Makamae o Hawaiʻi - Precious Plants of Hawaiʻi (PDF - 1,816 KB)
Last updated: May 5, 2021