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Coconut Tree

* Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Cocos nucifer

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.

Ti

*Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Cordyline terminalis

Hawaiian Names: Ki, Ti

This plant was another introduction by the Hawaiians  to  Hawaii.  They used the Ti plant had a wide range of uses, ranging from, wrappings for food, thatching, medical purposes,  plates, and clothes.  The plant also was considered sacred to the god of agriculture ( Lono) and the godess of hula (Laka). An incredible demonstration of the use as a rain coat can be found here. 

Taro

* Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Colocasia esculent

Hawaiian Name: Kalo

This plant represented the God Kane who the Hawaiians considered the creator of all life. The tuber provided that life for the Hawaiians, because of it’s use as by far the common staple of Hawaiian diet. Taro is purple potato like starch that was often ground into poi(akin to mashed potatoes). The Hawaiians went to great lengths to cultivate this plant creating aqueducts and massive rock wall terraces using 100’s of thousands of rocks.

Hau

* Polynesian Introduced

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)

Hala

* polynesian introduced

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.

Paper Mulberry

* Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Broussonetia papyrifer

Hawaiian Name: Wauke

The Hawaiians did not have cotton or mammal hair to weave cloth so instead they relied or bark cloth(Kapa). The Wauke was the primary plant he Hawaiians used for making such cloth.  They used Kapa and the Wauke for bedding, ceremonies, clothes, and wrapping the bones of their ancestors.   The Hawaiians cut the side branches off  until it grew to about 4 feet high. At that point they cut it down and  stripped off it’s bark. The bark was then soaked it water,  before being pounded into Kapa cloth.

Candle Nut Tree

*Polynesian introduced

Scientific Name: Pittosporum hosmeri

Hawaiian Name Aleurites moluccana

This common plant has distinct light colored leaves that help this plant stand out in a forest. Its Hawaiian translation is ” light” because it’s seeds were extensively burned due to its high oil content. The spreading crushed nuts in small ponds helped increase visibility when spear fishing.  The nut was roasted and eaten as a dish called inamona, although eaten raw it is poisonous. The oil from the nuts treated surfboards with create a protective coating similar to a stain.

Olona

Scientific name Touchardia latifolia

Hawaiian Name Olona

The Hawaiians specifically cultivated this plant for its cordage.  It has now been found to be one of the strongest natural fibers in the world. The Hawaiians stripped and soaked the inner bark into cordage for use in fishing lines, attaching adz heads to handles, weapons and repair.

Koa

Scientific Name: Acacia koa

Hawaiian Name: Koa

This iconic plant is known for it’s sickle shaped leaves, but is often confused with Australian eucalypts which  is very similar. To tell the difference one can break a leaf  off and see if it smells like eucalyptus or grass. Hawaiians actually used the elepaio bird to check on the health of  koa trees before they were used for massive voyaging  and fighting  canoes. If the bird found many insects than the tree was probably bad if it found few it was a good sign  Click here for full article