Common Urban Plants

This category contains 15 posts

Hawaiian Rockwort

Scientific Name: Nototrichium sandwicense

Hawaiian Name: Kului

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.


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.


*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. 

Forest gardenia

* Endangered

Scientific Name: Gardenia Brighamii

Hawaiian Name: Nanu, Na u

This is another popular easy to grow landscaping plant.  However, it has become extremely difficult to find in the wild and has been listed on the federally endangered list.  The Hawaiians used the pulp of this flower for a rich yellow dye reserved for chiefs.


* Polynesian Introduced

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.


* 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.


Scientific Name: psydrax odorata

Hawaiian Names: Ohe’e, Alahe’e

The Alahe’e was once very common in dry forests, and unlike many native plants, remains relatively common. The leaves are glossy green and hold out well against drought.  The strong yet relatively light wood was used as digging stick ( ‘o’o) . These digging sticks were the primary farming tool of the Hawaiians and were used as a shovel and crowbar all in one.

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.


Scientific name: pritchardia, Arecina, P. beccariana, P hardyi, P. Hillebrandii, P. martii ( numerous others)

Hawaiian Names: Hawane, Loulu Noulu

With 19 species of Loulu in Hawaii, each island and environment seems to have it’s own type.  The Hawaiians labeled all 19 species under the singe title of Loulu. Some species are endangered and most of the other ones are listed at risk.  Some of types of Loulu were used by Hawaiians for thatching. Other types were eaten and had a taste similar to coconut.

Hawaiian Rose

Scientific name: Ostemoeles Anthyllidifolia 

Hawaiian name: Ulei, Eluehe

This is an excellent xeroscape plant and a common problem is overwatering. The wood is extremely flexible and springy and was used for spears, and creating hoops. A little known fact is that Hawaiians used bows and arrows to hunt birds and rats. This springy wood was  a choice selection for both the Hawaiians’ bows and arrows.  The fruit is edible although it’s grainy and not very tasty.