Never a dull moment for plant enthusiasts on the island of Kauai....



 Latin Name: Metrosideros polymorpha

Family: Myrtle (Myrtaceae)

Location: Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast

Native to: Hawaii

Fun Facts: A favorite plant of the volcano (and fire) goddess Pele, and as such it is one of the first plants to establish itself on volcanic rocks.  There are five types of ohia lehua in Hawaii that can be distinguished by whether their leaves have petioles or form rosettes (this one has very small or no petioles and forms rosettes) and also some have rounded leaves.  The leaf arrangementcan more accurately be called distichous, a sequentially perpendicular arrangement of opposite pairs.  The tightness of the arrangement due to the lack of petioles gives it some resemblance of a rosette.  M. waialealea has long pointed leaves.  M. tremuloides has red petioles and a split up flower.  M. macrocarpa has a curled outgrowth and M. rugosa has small rounded pointed leaves with a deep wrinkled furrow down the middle.  The flowers are actually clusters of flowers.  They come in salmon, lemon, and peach as well and are popular in leis.  White flowered ohia is rumored to exist but is said to be the bigfoot of Hawaii--not yet confirmed by science.

Delta Maidenhair Fern

Latin Name: Adiantum raddianum

Family: Pteridaceae

Location: Kalalau trail near Wainiha

Native to: West Indies and tropical America.

Fun Facts: There are species in the genus (or family, as is the ongoing debate) of Adiantum (or Adiantaceae).  Ferns reproduce a little differently as the plant you see before you is the sporophyte generation, which bears sporangia found in little dots you see on the bottom of ferns.  Often these are covered by a circular membrane called an indusium.  If part of the leaf incompletely covers the sporangia, this is called a false indusium.  This is one of the defining features the sets pteridaceae apart from other fern families.  The sporangia are shed and germinate (given the proper delicate conditions) into a little prothallus, which self-fertilizes, bearing male a female parts.  From this combination the new fern plant can take root and grow.  This is a very popular indoor fern plant.  I like the elegant curves of the leaves and the inconspicuous stems that gives the appearance that these fan-like leaves are floating in air.

Rainbow Eucalyptus

Latin Name: Eucalyptus deglupta

Family: Myrtle (Myrtaceae)

Location: Princeville golf course.

Native to: Areas in Philippines, New Guinea, and Indonesia (New Britain, Sulewesa, Mindanao, Seram)

Fun Facts: Beautiful specimens get far more colorful than the above picture as the tree matures the tree is light green where the bark peels off but then matures to blue, then purple, then orange and finally maroon, giving the different levels such a dazzling appearance with vertical stripes as stripes of the bark peel off. The colors are less intense in trees found outside their native range.  The leaves are not sickle-shaped like the Eucalyptus globulus, or blue gum most commonly seen in California, but more of a wider regular leaf elliptical shape.  It is used for pulp in the production of white paper.


Blue Snakeweed/ Owi

Latin Name: Stachycarpheta cayennensis

Family: Vervain/Verbena (Verbenaceae)

Location: Kalalau trail

Native to:  from Mexico to Argentina and the Caribbean.

Fun facts:  This is a highly effective invader of the tropics, in part because livestock find it distasteful.  The long thin spikes are covered with sharp bracts between which flowers bloom and last about a day then shrivel and fall.  The cross-venulate pattern of the leave venation give it a wrinkled appearance reminiscent of other verbenas.  Other names include Cayenne vervain, blue rat's tail, nettleleaf velvetberry, Cayenne porterweed, rough leaf false Vervain, and Brazilian tea.  It has had some medicinal for the control of the symptoms of malaria and for diabetes control.  Cayenne is the capital city of French Guyana.

Cook Pines

Latin Name: Araucaria columnaris

Family: Araucariaceae

Location: Princeville

Native to: New Caledonia

Fun Facts: It is easy to mistake this pine for Norfolk Island Pine which is closely related.  But it is not the species from Norfolk Island, which is the thicker, more pyramidal A. heterophylla that we can see growing in southern California like a bit plastic Christmas tree.  Norfolk island pine is the only Araucaria on Norfolk island, while New Caledonia contains thirteen different Araucaria species, so to call A. columnaris New Caledonia Pine, as it is sometimes called, seems confusing to me.  It is one of the taller Araucarias, reaching about 60 m, which is close to A. heterophylla which gets to 65 m.  The cones are scaly and while the young leaves are needle-like, they mature into more scale-like, triangular leaves.  Other noteworthy members of this genus include the very hardy Monkey Puzzle tree of Chile, and the Bunya-Bunya tree of Eastern Australia.


Latin Name: Lantana camara

Family: Vervain/Verbena (Verbenaceae)

Location: Kalalau trail

Native to: Central and South America

Fun Facts: Another important invader which is toxic to livestock.  A lot prettier than dandelions.  Like the earlier verbena species we just covered, it has textured leaves that appeared wrinkled due to the vein pattern.  The vein pattern is a bit different and this one is arcuate-reticulate.  Both leaves also have serrated edges and pointed leaves.  Looking at the leaves and the shapes of the flowers, you can tell they are from the same family.


Giant Yucca

Latin Name: Yucca gigantea

Family: Agave (Agavaceae)

Location: Princeville

Native to: Central America minus Panama, Eastern Mexico

Fun Fact: Flor de Izote is the national flower of El Salvador.  They boil it and eat it and it is a little bitter but not too bad.  Beautiful flowers.  I've always known it as Yucca guatemalensis (different name, same species) but you rarely see it full size out of its natural habitat, close to 30 feet, as seen above.  A common ornamental around southern California and the smaller ones have twisting trunks and branches.  In the coffee fields in El Salvador it is often seen as a border to prevent erosion.  Other names: blue-stem yucca, spineless yucca, soft-tip yucca, and itabo.



Latin Name: Pimenta dioca

Family: Myrtle (Myrtaceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Central America, the Greater Antilles, and Southern Mexico

Fun Facts: I have entered this picture big in the hopes that you can look closely and see the grape-like clusters of black fruits.  The pattern of inflorescences on which the fruits are born is called axillary panicle.  A panicle is a much-branched raceme.  Axillary because it comes out of the armpits of leaves.  The English named it 'Allspice' somewhere around 1621 feeling it combined the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.  It has also been called Jamaican pepper tree or Myrtle pepper.  It's flavoring is a key component of curry, mole, many sausages, Cincinatti-style chili, barbecue sauces, and Caribbean jerk seasoning.


Traveler's Palm

 Latin Name: Ravenala madagascariensis

Family: Bird of Paradise (Strelitziaceae)

Location: Outside Foodland in Princeville

Native to: Madagascar!

Fun Facts:  I know I've said it before but man, some of the most stunning plants come from Madagascar. This is no palm, but more closely related to the banana.  I struggled to differentiate the above specimen with certitude from Strelizia nicolai, or the Giant White bird of Paradise.  The dried up flowers of the above plant, look like they could be what's left of the bird heads of S. nicolai, but if you look closely, they are all on the same axis, whereas with S. nicolai, the bird head flowers are turned each away from the next one down like a rotating axis.  They are black with white "feathers" on their heads.  That is another beautiful plant, but I think I prefer the much larger, straighter leaves of the very exotic traveler's palm with it's larger trunks and the basket-like lattice work that is seen down the middle where the stems all meat up with the main trunk.  Both tend to be clustering plants and the saplings at the bottom should be pruned often to help them meet their full potential.  Thanks to Steve Brown in South Florida whose video helped me to distinguish these two plants.


Parakeet Heliconia

Latin Name: Heliconia psitticoram

Family: Heliconia (Heliconiaceae)

Location: Happy Talk Bar/Restaurant, Princeville

Native to: Trinidad and South America

Fun Facts: This is the most commonly cultivated heliconia in Hawaii.  It is escaping and becoming naturalized and you might see it along the roadsides.  Keep your eyes on the road!  I had a little trouble identifying this one as I thought it was from the ginger family.  The leaves of the ginger, bird of paradise, banana, and heliconia families have similar features to them.  I guess it makes sense that they are all contained within the order Zingiberales!


Field Indian Paintbrush

Latin Name: Castilleja arvensis

Family: Broomrape (Orobanchaceae)

Location: Kalalau trail

Native to: Mexico and Central and South America

Fun Facts:  Having mostly observed wildflowers in the mountain west, I was not expecting to come across Indian paintbrush on Kauai.  It's official now that they have it all. The red tipped hairy leaves are actually bracts, and the flowers are green, just visible here and covered in hair.  The are pollinated by hummingbirds.  They have been reclassified from the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) to a family of parasitic plants, many of which are non-photosynthetic.  They are typically yellow or off-color orange, red, or brown and off-white, generally lacking green.  As you can see above, Castilleja is photosynthetic and not an obligate parasite, but a partial parasite. So if there is a convenient host nearby it will also help itself to nutrients by penetrating specialized roots called a haustoria into the tissue of neighboring plants, as a partial parasite or, hemiparasite, to supplement its' photosynthesis whenever it's convenient.


Cocoa Tree

Latin Name: Theobroma cacao

Family: Mallow (Malvaceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Deep tropics of Central and South America, esp. Amazon Basin

Fun Facts:  This is hands down my wife's favorite plant.  Chocolate contains antioxidants, quite a bit in its natural form.  I got to try the chocolate "nibs" directly from the plant.  Talk about bitter but you could feel the kick of it's stimulant, theobromine (which some compare to caffeine but there is no caffeine in chocolate, rest assured).  It is estimated to have some cardiovascular benefits, but can have adverse effects on your health in increasing heartburn (theobromine effects on the esophageal sphincter) and might also increase risk of kidney stones because of high levels of oxalate.  Aztecs used the cacao bean as a type of currency.  Women today everywhere worship it's mood altering powers.

Yellow Oleander

Latin Name: Cascabela thevetia

Family: Dogbane (Apocynaceae)

Location: Princeville

Native to:  Mexico and Central America

Fun Facts:  This plant has cardiac toxins similar to digoxin.  There have been many poisonings accidental and otherwise.  The leaves are lanceolate, similar to oleander, but the flowers are more more funnel-shaped whereas Nerium oleander has more of a pinwheel appearance, though one can easily see the similarity and they are from the same family.  Milky sap.  In general it is a good rule of thumb to avoid milky sap which is seen a lot with this family and also euphorbias.  These flowers also come in apricot and white.


Jade Creeper

 Latin Name: Stronglyodon macrobotrys

Family: Legume (Fabaceae)

Location: Princeville botanical garden

Native to: the Philippines

Fun Facts:  What a strange representative of the Pea family.  It has a beak-like flower where there is a banner above (hooked, in this case) a small keel on the bottom and two sings on flanking each side of the keel and above it.  Leaves in groups of three is also seen in this family, but look at that color.  Why does it glow like it's radioactive or CGI.  There are two flavone chemicals responsible which alter the color if the pH is lowered to make it more yellow, a specialized pigmentation called copigmentation.  It likes to hang up high in the canopy and the flowers hang down like clusters of grapes that can be quite large (up to 3 m) and like other Fabaceae will form small elongated pods around 15 cm long.


Mexican Heather

Latin Name: Cuphea hyssopifolia

Family: Loosestrife (Lythraceae)

Location: Wyndham Bali Hai Resort

Native to: Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico

Fun Facts: Naturalized and considered a serious weed in Hawaii.  I noticed it as a a simple ornamental and quite pretty.  The Loosestrifes are noted to have opposite or whorled leaves and petals that appear crumpled.  The pomegranite has recently been recategorized to this family.  The flower shape here at first glance is radially symmetric like a sunflower (although that is deceptive since it is made up of numerous smaller flowers) but if you look closer there is always one petal that is more separated from the other five, so that it is more bilaterally symmetric, like the pea-like flowers of the jade creeper, the beach cabbage, like orchids, all of which are symmetric by one line of division, which is called zygomorphic.  The radial symmetry where you could draw a line through it at an any angle and the two halves would reflect eachother like a sunflower is called actinomorphic.

Wood Sorrell

 Latin Names: On the Left (#1): Oxalis debilis.  On the Right (#2): Oxalis corniculata.

Family: Wood Sorrell (Oxalidaceae)

Location: #1:Kalalau trail.  #2: Streetside in Princeville

Natives to: #1: South America. #2: Unknown--Old World. 

Fun Facts: These are both widespread weeds.  #1 is called Pink wood sorrell and #2 is known as creeping woodsorrell or sleeping beauty.  They have a sour lemony taste and the entire plant is edible.  Don't eat too much of it.  Remember what I said about chocolates having oxalates and kidney stones.  But a little chocolate or a little tasty sour lemon grass never hurt anyone.  All things in moderation!  There was a lot growing along the road where I grew up on the Central Coast of California, and me and my siblings used to munch on the long, sour, juicy stems of oxalis pes-caprae on the way down to the bus stop, letting the flowers dangle long out of our mouths to look cool as we munched.  These flowers are actinomorphic in their shape, as discussed in the Fun Facts above.

Swiss Cheese Plant

Latin Name: Monstera deliciosa

Family: Arum (Araceae)

Location: Happy Talk Restaurant/Resort

Native to: Southern Mexico and Central America

Fun Facts:  This arum has a lot of similarities in its appearance to Philodendron bipinnatifidum.  If you look at the leaves at the edges or the tips of the divisions, they tend to be more sharp, crisp, or angular, whereas in P. bipinnatifidum they tend to be more rounded, or even tapering with a smooth, scalloped appearance.  also the trunks in this other similar species have eyedrop (looks like an eyeball)-shaped leave-scars and are thick and woody.  Getting back to the above species, it is more of a tree-climber, and naturally grows towards the shade so it can climb a tree. It can get 20 meters long or high.  In Hawaii it is a "mildly invasive" species.  You certainly don't see it on the trees as much as the money plant.  This plant can take over large areas and I think that and its wild appearance account for the name monstera.  Also called the fruit salad plant, don't bother making a salad out of its leaves, which are poisonous.  The deliciosa in the name probably comes from its edible fruits, which I have not seen but are said to resemble a small green ear of corn with hexagonal plates.  if you wrap them in paper long enough for the scales to pop off it is said to taste like jackfruit or pineapple.  Deliciosa!

The End

(Stay tuned for two more Kauai Botanical Blog installments, Kauai Palm Compendium and Garden Isle Exotic Plant Pets)




Need more information about the flora of Kauai or are you interested in starting your Kauai real estate search? Contact me today!


1. Wikipedia website

2. "Five Species of Ohia Lehua" by Nate Yuen on the Hawaiianforest website.

3. Botany in a Day, by Thomas J. Elpel.

4. Australian National Botanical Gardens Website.

5. Video "How to Identify the Traveler's Palm from the White Bird of Paradise" by Steve Brown.











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