Hawaiian name: Pili, Lule
This plant was the Hawaiians’ choice grass to be used for thatching. The common use of this plant helped Hawaiian houses earn the title of “grass shacks” The Hawaiians also used this plant for dye and as flooring pad. This grass is used to restore the United States Great Plains’ grasslands and prairies.( Image by Forest and Starr)
Hawaiian Name: Ilima
Ilima is a common plant that thrives in sunny and hot conditions. This plant was prized for it’s beautiful flowers that were strung into delicate leis. This is the offical flower for Oahu. However, many people don’t know that this flower is actually edible and can be eaten in salads.
Scientific Name: Nototrichium sandwicense
This native plant has silvery leaves and is very popular among landscapers. This plant is drought resistant so it’s good for those looking to create a xeriscaping garden. The Hawaiians packed the flowers and wood of this plant in bamboo and would toss it over a cliff to create something similar to a firework display.
* Polynesian Introduced
Hawaiian Name Niu
This is probably both the most recognizable palm tree and Hawaiian plant in the world. The Hawaiians used this plants’ fronds extensively for weaving. The fruit can also be eaten, in green form as a jello, or brown form as a tough meat. Incredibly, the fruit is edible for up 5 months while on a tree. Unlike in many TV shows and movies, coconuts actually have a fibrous husk surrounding the fruit that must be removed before cracking.
Scientific Name: Thespesia populnea
Hawaiian Name: milo
This common tree can often be found in parks and provides solid shade. It was used by the Hawaiians to food utensils and containers because it left no bitter aftertaste. The bark also made a poor quality cordage and it’s fruit produced yellow and green dye. It’s not really clear why the Hawaiians brought this plant considering that it doesn’t appear to have any unique or essential uses.
Scientific Name: Hibiscus tiliaceus
Hawaiian Name Hau
The Hau plants normally looks like a twisting mess of curved branches and 5 pedaled flowers. These curved branches were often used in creating outriggers for canoes due to it’s shape and light weight. The plant was and still is very common and it’s bark was the primary plant used by the Hawaiians for cordage. However, the wood proved even more valuable to the Hawaiians as they would vigorously rub a smaller piece in a grove of a larger Hau branch to create fire. ( Photo by Forest and Starr)
Scientific Name: Pandanus tectorius
Hawaiian Name: Hala, Pu Hala
This plant is easily recognizable through its droopy leaves and the pineapple like appearance of it’s fruit. The mangrove like bottoms allows the hala to filter out small amounts of salt water and survive well on the coastline. The Hawaiians main use of this plant was it’s leaves. The leaves were used to weave, mats hats, plates, blankets, bags but most importantly they wove the sails of their voyaging canoes that carried them the thousands of miles to and from Hawaii.
Scientific Name: Gossypium Tomentosum
Hawaiian Name: Ma’o Huluhulu
These shrubs have large hibiscus like flowers, but produce relatively short cotton fibers that were not useful for cordage or cooking. However the hairs were used for tinder and used similarly to a cotton swab or Q tip. The plant is also resistant to many pests and disease of commercial cotton and has been cross bread with commercial types to create disease resistant hybrids( Image by Forest and Starr Kim)
Hawaiian Names: Kala, Naule, Pua Kala
This plant with it’s jagged silver leaves is one of the few native plants to have thorns. This is also one of the few native plants to be poisonous causing deep sleep in small concentrations and seizure and death in higher concentrations. The Hawaiians however used it’s poisonous sap as a narcotic and analgesic for surgeries.
Scientific name: Sesbania Tomentosa
Hawaiian name Ohai
This endangered plant has soft silverly leaves because of the thousands of tiny hairs that cover this plant. These hairs help protect the plant from the heat and help trap tiny particles of moisture. The Ohai has the ability to gather nitrogen from the air and defuses it in the soil creating a organic fertilizer for nearby soil. The salmon colored flower is fragrant and was prized for lei making.