Never a dull moment for tropical plant aficionados on the Island of Kauai....

Jackfruit Tree

Jack Fruit Tree

Common Name: Jackfruit Tree

Latin Name: Artocarpus heterophyllus

Family:  Fig Family (Moraceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native To: Southeast Asia, Rainforests and Coastal Areas

Fun Facts: This is the largest tree-born fruit, getting as big as 35 kg and each tree can produce 100-200 fruit in a year.  Tree gets up to 70 ft tall and both fruit and seeds are edible.


Lobster Claw Heliconia

Latin Name: Heliconia caribeae x H. bihai= H. 'jaquinii' (this is a cross-bred cultivar)

Family: Heliconia Family (Heliconiaceae)

Location: Secret Beach in Kilauea

Native To: Both species are native to West Indies, but H. bihai is also found in Northern South America.

Fun Facts: Heliconias rely on hummingbirds and bats for pollination.  The colorful claws seen above are not flowers, but bracts which contain the flowers rich in nectar for our hummingbird friends.


Bottle Palm

Latin name: Hyophorbe lagenicaulis

Family: Palm Family (Arecaceae)

Location: Poipu Beach

Native to: Round Island, Mauritius

Fun Facts:  Can't handle freezing temps and only found in southern Florida and Hawaii when it comes to the U.S.  Very comely and popular ornamental on Kauai.

Royal Poinciana

 Latin Name: Delonix Regia

Family: Legume Family (Fabaceae)

Location: Wyndham Bali Hai Resorts in Princeville

Native to: Madagascar (widely introduced to tropics)

Fun Facts: This breath-taking flowering tree can brighten any landscape. The picture above depicts the shape of leaves and flowers but does not do justice to the giant flowering flagship it can become. Also is called “Flame Tree” and “Flamboyant”, it reaches a height of 12 meters, but is a wide spreading tree like other acacia-like trees from the same family. There also is a rare yellow flowered version.


Tropical Milkweed

Latin Name: Asclepias curassavica

Family: Milkweed Family (Asclepiadaceae)

Location: Wyndham Bali Hai Resort in Princeville

Native to: Tropical (mainland)Americas

Fun facts: With milky sap and flowers with corona (crown) lobes they are a beautiful representative of the family, or of anything referred to as a “weed” as they make an impressive ornamental. Other interesting names include, blood flower, hierba de la cucaracha, redhead, and Mexican butterfly weed.

Koa Tree


Latin Name: Acacia koa

Family: Legume or Pea Family (Fabaceae)

Location: Na Pali Coast, Kalalau Trail

Native to: The Hawaiian Islands!

Fun Facts: Pardon my arm but I was fascinated with what appeared to be a peculiar leaf dimorphism (botanical for two shapes) but what I read later that the sickle shaped leaves are not actually leaves but 'phyllodes' or expansions of the leaf petiole (stem of the leaf) contrasted with the actual twice divided acacia-like leaves. Not shown are the mimosa-like flowers, like bright yellow fur balls, and the long, flattened pea-pod like fruits. The wood was once used for shorter surfboards and is now used as a “tone wood” for guitars and ukuleles. Also sought after for furniture and similar to Black Walnut but more reddish. It grows to a height of 25 meters and the seeds are known to lie dormant for up to 25 years and require scarification to germinate.


Sensitive Plant

Latin Name: Mimosa pudica

Family: Legume Family (Fabaceae)

Location: Princeville seaside footpath

Fun Facts: Kids love to see this plant in action and so does the kid in me! Stroke the leaf-tips and see what happens. A rare natural phenomenon, it is actually a common weed around the islands. Somewhat toxic to cattle, it has become a pantropic and considered highly invasive in some places. It has escaped to the Asian Pacific, Australia, and quite a few African nations as well. During WW II, the Japanese planted it to better track the movements of American troops. Other names include sleepy plant, dormilones, and shy plant.


Beach Cabbage (Naupaka Kahakai, Sea Lettuce)

Latin Name: Scaevola taccada

Family: Goodenaceae

Location: The Beach

Native to: Pacific tropical islands and East Africa

Fun facts: This plant grows close to the see where it is splashed by saltwater and it's fruit floats in the ocean and so propagates itself. Look close at the flower. It is an odd looking half-flower and called Naupaka Kahakai by Hawaiians. Another Naupaka (Scaevola) is found in the mountains. It is missing the lower half of the flower whilst the beach Naupaka has its upper half missing. This is explained in a myth wherein two lovers were chased by the Goddess Pele. The young man was chased into the mountains and changed into a mountain Naupaka and the woman was changed into a beach Naupaka, both by Pele's sisters to save them from her wrath (Pele was mad because she desired the man but could not break them up). When the two halves of the two Naupaka flowers are reunited again, so will be reunited the two lovers.


Screwpine (Hala)

Latin Name: Pandanus utilis

Family: Pandanaceae

Location: Roadside between Hanalei and Princeville (All over the place)

Native to: Mauritius, Reunion, Rodrigues (Mascarene Islands)

Fun Facts: You can't miss this scraggly plant standing up on stilts that form parallel lines holding the soil together. Indeed it is planted to help with erosion controll and the Na Pali Coast Kalalau trail is also full of them. The fruit can be cooked and eaten and the the leaves make tough material for basket or ropes. You may catch dried pieces of the fruit along the ground which make a perfect brush utensil as well. It's top looks like a cross between a palm and a yucca and it is neither. The fruit looks to be covered with a mass of plates like a pineapple as below. The picture above is not a typical specimen but a very young plant which to me granted a new appreciation for the term “screw"-pine.

Satake Palm

Latin Name: Satakentia liukiuensis

Family: Palm Family (Arecaceae; subfamily Arecoideae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden.

Native to: Ryuku archipelago of Japan.

Fun Facts: The leaves turn so that past the middle they are oriented vertically instead of horizontally in a plane with the grown.  From the side, the profile of the leaves looks similar to Ravenea rivularis (see below), which also tilts midway along its axis, making the lines of the leaflets hypnotically visible from the side and from below.  Let's compare the profile of this landscape tree with cocos.  The leaves and general shape of the tree are similar, but with Satakentia, the trunks seem straighter and the leaves are also less hanging or droopy, and stiffer or straighter.  Perhaps just slightly.  They have a similar look on a landscape. The leaves also appear less numerous.


Old World Forked Fern (Uluhe)

Latin Name: Dicranopteris linearis

Family: Forked Fern Family (Gleicheniaceae)

Location: Na Pali Coast, Kalalau Trail

Native to: Pacific Wet Old World Tropics and Polynesia

Fun Facts: Spreading by rhizomes (underground branches) growing over long distances in the Hawaiian rainforests, it's branches can cover 6 meters over the ground and 10 meters up a tree and helps preserve the rainforest ecosystem. It does so by colonizing fresh areas (lava flows) and by being slow to decompose when it dies but regrowing over the same area by roots and rhizomes after it's leftover matrix fills with a thick layer of forest detritus (up to a meter thick). Where the fern is eliminated, invaders take advantage. It has also been used in the treatment worms, skin ulcers, and fever in Indochina, New Guinea, and Malaysia, respectively.


Ti Plant

 Latin Name: Cordylline fruticosa

Family: Asparagus family (Asparagaceae)

Photo Location: Dollar Car Rental in Lihue

Native to: Polynesia

Fun Facts: This plant is integral to the Hawaiian hula culture with it's sweet edible starchy rhizomes, its use in hula skirts, its use as a covering for surfboards, and was planted at the ends of houses to prevent ghosts from entering. Also called Cordylline Terminalis or Cabbage Palm.



Latin Name: Casuarina equisetafolia

Family: Ironwood Family (Casuarinaceae)

Location: Poipu Beach Lifeguard Station

Native to: Southeast Asia from Burma and Vietnam to Australia

Fun Facts: Big shaggy-looking giants mar the coastal landscape in a shroud of downy gray-green. My sister and I fantasized about chopping them all down. A major invader, they were introduced for the use of shipbuilding, and are great for building all sorts of things and great for firewood. Also called Australian Pines, they are not really pines at all. Look closely at the needles. These are not true leaves as in pines. Unlike regular pine needles, you find they are segmented and can be broken into smaller tubes. Their structure and appearance are startlingly like tiny horsetails. Hence the name equisetafolia, or “horsetail leaves” (horsetails=equisetum). The actual leaves are the itty-bitty ridges along the end of each segment. It actually has closer relation to oak trees. If we did cut them all down they would probably still grow back, and they do, in my humble opinion, make for lovely hedges like the one above.


Spider Lilly

Latin Name: Hymenocallis caribaea

Family: Amaryllis (Amaryllidaceae)

Location: Wyndham Bali Hai Resort under a Large Ficus

Native to: Caribbean Islands

Fun Facts: A very popular ornamental on Kauai, with large stalks and beautiful, showy exotic flowers. Looking at a large specimen in a very sunny spot that was yet to bloom, the “basal rosettes of strap-like leaves” reminded me of some rare prehistoric palm. Some of them are very large. Relatives in the Amaryllis family include daffodils and onions.


King Palms

1. Bangalow Palms

Latin Name: Archontophoenix cunninghamiana

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Australia and (further back) Indonesia

Fun Facts: Invasive in areas of Brazil where it is replacing Euterpe edulis. It does better in some urban environments as its fronds do not create a nesting environment for insects and rodents. An ornamental grown in California from San Luis Obispo all the way down and also in coastal south Florida.


2. Alexander Palms

Alexander Palm

Latin Name: Archontophoenix alexandrae

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Bali Hai Wyndham Resort in Princeville

Native to: Queensland and New South Wales, Australia

Fun Facts: Flowering bodies (inflorescences) branch 3-4 times, have white flowers and red berries (like Bangalows) but the flower bushels appear smaller in comparison with Bangalows. The Bangalow palms are just a little shorter, reaching 20-25 meters high, whilst the Alexanders can reach about 30 meters. They like water more than most palms and grow fast, 1/3-1 meter per year.


Royal Cuban Palm

 Latin Name: Roystonea regia

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Near Ke'e Beach, across from Limahuli Botanical Gardens

Native to: Florida, Mexico, parts of Central America, and the Carribean (not just Cuba)

Fun Facts: Another crownshaft palm, like all the palms covered up to this point. The genus Roystonea, containing 10 other species, was named after Roy Stone, a U.S. Army engineer.  Nice try Fidel!  Actually, it is the national tree of Cuba.  It is used for construction timber and thatch, and its roots have been used as a diuretic and a treatment for diabetes.  Birds and bats and livestock will feed on its fruit.

Loulu Palms/Pritchardias (2)

1.Lau Fan Palm

Latin Name: Pritchardia thurstonii

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Airport in Lihue

Native to: Fiji (esp. the Lau Islands)

Fun Facts: Named after former Fijian Governor John Bates Thurston.  Fruit hang out in clusters like ornaments, which may help prevent them from being eaten.  The Loulu group of palm trees are the only real Hawaiian natives, and yet they are threatened by introduced rodents eating their fruit.  I'm a big palm fan of fan palms, and these are some of my favorite.  Of about 25 species of Pritchardias, 19 are native to the Hawaiian Island, but they are quite different, showing their distinct evolution on the different islands.  This one likes limestone soils along boulders and cliffs and is well represented in Tonga as well.


2.Fiji Fan Palm

Latin Name: Pritchardia Pacifica

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville

Native to: Tonga

Fun Facts: No longer known in the wild, this palm is found where cultivated or escaped nearby.  It is similar in appearance to the Lau Fan Palm above, but there are some subtle differences, more apparent the bigger it grows.  It grows to 15 meters while thurstonii only makes it to 8.  Also, with P. pacifica, you see bigger leaves more separated from the plant by their stems (petioles).  The fruit clusters are kept in close between the leaves in P. pacifica as well, not dangling down or out to the side as in P. thurstonii.


Chinese Fan Palm

Latin Name: Livistona Chinensis

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Hanalei Bay Beach Parking

Native to: China, Taiwan, Japan

Fun Facts: Grows easily and spreads quickly, this palm is known to be invasive in the Hawaiian islands, as well as the islands close to Madagascar, like Mauritius and Reunion, Micronesia, Java, New Caledonia, South Africa. You can easily distinguish it from the pacific pritchardia natives (as seen above) by their ragged, hanging leaflets and they also have spines on their petioles, or leaf-stems.  They can get as high as 15 meters.


Gulubia Palm

Latin Name: Hydriastele costata

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Hanalei Bay in private yard near the food carts.

Native to: New Guinea, Bismark Archipelago, Aru Islands, and Northern New Guinea

Fun Facts:  Distinctive for it's leaflets hanging down so loose like ribbons, it is one of the most common and abundant palms in lowland New Guinea.  It grows in mesic hillsides and swamps.  High water needs but low salt tolerance, so don't look for it next to the sea.  Fruit is blue-grey with whitish stripes over fibrous ridges, and it gets to 20 meters high.

Passion Fruit Vine (Liliko'i)

 Latin Name: Passiflora edulis

Family: Passion Flower (Passifloraceae)

Location: Path to Secret Beach (Near Kilauea)

Native to: Brazil, Paraguay, and Northern Argentina.

Fun Facts: A pepo is a type of fruit under the classification "berry" that has a hard outer rind and juicy interior with numerous seeds not divided by septae, like oranges are.  Papayas are also pepos. It is the national flower of Paraguay and is often added to other fruits in juices to enhance the aroma.  There is a larger yellow grapfruit-sized variety and a smaller purplish lemon sized one, the latter being less acidic.  It has a startling array of culinary uses from a special flavor of Schweppes to cheesecakes in Peru.  It is known as "purple granadillo" in South Africa and "maracuja" in Brazil.  Now, back to more palms...


Licualas (2)


1.Mangrove Fan Palm

Latin Name: Licuala spinosa

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Moist Areas in Southeast Asia

Fun Facts: Licualas are such a fascination for the palm collector and make great indoor pets.  Within the fan subgroup of palms, to me they form a group that has perfected the fan.  The type of fan leaf above is described as "peltate-orbicular", which does not describe how the circular leaf it split up like pieces of a pie but rather the way it is 1)attached to the stem in the middle, and 2) round (and convex).  Most Licualas I believe fit into this shape, but they are not all divided.  Most are smallish but some develope trunks.  This one will grow into a large thicket-like mass and can get up to 3-4 meters.  The leafstalks are "armed" with spines and where they come together into dried, shaggy looking trunks as they grow up over time.  The leaf stalks, or petioles, get up to 2 meters to suspend the leaves far above and to the side of the main stem.


2. Licuala Cordata

 Latin Name: Licuala cordata (most of these are better known

by their species names)

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Central Sarawak (endemic)

Enough cannot be said about these licualas.  I've read palmetiers gushing about there beauty, but imagine a tall palm with numerous geometrically perfect umbrella-like fan leaves glowing above in a hypnotic sunlit canopy.  Some low-lying species, like this above and L. orbicularis are breathtaking in the size and majestic display of their leaves.  The perfect fans, as I've already said.  A real treasure from the orient these plants are and their images have haunted me in dreams of exotic jungles.  And I would be very surprised if they can't all be accommodated in outdoor collections like this on Kauai.


Bismark Palm

Latin Name: Bismarkia Nobilis

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville

Native to: Madagascar

Fun Facts:  Beautiful tall specimen here.  Usually gets no taller than 12 meters in cultivation but in it's native Madagascar savannah can get up to 25 meters.  It thrives in soils rich in aluminum and iron, places that are hot and wet.  It is also dioecious, or to state more plainly, it has separate male and female plants.  Named for Otto Von Bismark, the famous 19th century German chancellor and for it's very noble appearance.


Majesty Palm

Latin Name: Ravenea rivularis

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville

Native to: Madagascar

Fun Facts:  Madagascar is the origin of a lot of spectacular species, especially palms.  This one can get as high as 20-30 meters high.  The leaves of this palm are darker at their extremity and lighter in the middle and they are twist and the middle to orient their dark green leaflets up and down instead of side to side like they are oriented near the crownshaft.  This and the gives them the appearance of a kind of unfurling sense of majestic motion.  Another stunner.


Genus Asterogyne (2)

Palmiche Palm

Latin Name: Asterogyne spicata

Family: Palm (Arecacea)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Venezuela

Fun Facts: This interesting little 'understory' palm gets up to about 8 meters high with trunk only 4 cm wide.  So it's a thin little thing but can be tall and elegant and is excellent for indoor and outdoor cultivation.  It forms dark red ovoid fruits that are edible and very vivid in color.  The seed takes 3-4 months to germinate and the first young leaf is often red.


Asterogyne Martiana

 Latin Name: as above

Family: Palm (Arecaceae)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Rainforests of Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Northwestern Ecuador.

Fun Facts:  Another understory palm from the five species that contained in the Genus Asterogyne. Another great collectors item.  This one is not as tall as A. Spicata, only 6 ft with a trunk 2-3 cm in diameter.  Also lacks a crownshaft but has a more rough looking trunk built out of leaf scars.  The leaves get pretty bit, three feet long by one foot wide.


Giant Fishtail/Jaggary Palm

Latin Name: Caryota obtusa

Family: Palm (Arecacea)

Location: Princeville Botanical Garden

Native to: Thailand (probably also Laos, Burma, and NE India)

Fun Facts: There are many fishtail palms. This one grows to 60 feet and then produces flowers after which it dies (hapaxanthic).  We could see the ones that were flowering in this garden and the fishtail leaves were starting to droop down over massive inflorescences burdened down with fruit and our guide explained that it was putting all its energy into production of the fruit before dying.  It grows quickly once established, up to 1 meter per year.  There is an Indian form that is more cold tolerant and I believe this is it from the pictures I've seen but I guess they are not so easy to distinguish.  And now we take a break from rare exotic palms to the more common and native plants of Kauai....


Kukui Tree (Candlenut)


Latin Name: Aleurites moluccanus


Family: Spurge (Euphorbiaceae)


Location: Hanakapi'ai Falls, Na Pali Coast


Native to: New and Old World Tropics (It's a mystery, due to bring spread around early on)


Fun Facts: I was told that the Kukui tree was spread by early Hawaiian's as they dropped the seeds off of the tops of cliffs around the Island.  A helicopter ride can verify this pattern of seeding as you can easily spot the silvery light green appearance of these trees that stand out from above from amid a darker background of ferns and other trees where they line the bases of so many cliffs. Close up, they have are a kind of three-lobed triangular leaf, lighter on one side, with a dark shelled round nut that has different culinary uses. In Hawaii it is ground into a salted paste that is a condiment called Inamona, a key ingredient in poke (a dish with raw fish). The wood has been important in building of boats, and the oil from the candles has had a variety of important economic uses, like burning for a light source(hence the name, candlenut), and the preservation of fishnets amongst other things. Also the Kukui leaf is a symbol for the Island of Moloka'i.


Noni Tree


Latin Name: Morinda citrifolia

Family: Citrus/coffee family (Rubiaceae)

Location: Tunnels Beach

Native to:  Southeast Asia and Australasia

Fun Facts:  The Fruit is being researched for the multiple bioactive compounds for potential medicinal value.  Roots used in Chinese medicine for menstrual disorders, impotence, and abdominal pain.  The fruit has a powerful smell when opened that is described as pungent, giving it the nicknames "cheese fruit" or "vomit fruit".  The tree is salt tolerant and found in shaded forests or sandy shores.  Like most medicine, the fruit is not easy on the palate.  But some people, like the Aborigines,  eat it salted or cooked with curry and the seeds are also edible if roasted.


Philippine Ground Orchid


Latin Name: Spathoglottis plicata


Family: Orchid (Orchidaceae)


Location: Kalalau Trail on Na Pali Coast


Native to: Tropical and subtropical Asia through the Western Pacific Islands


Fun Facts: Orchids form the largest family of plants in terms of numbers of species. Because the seeds lack endosperm they rely on a symbiotic relationship with fungi which provide nutrients for their germination. The chances of the seeds released to meet with the right kind of fungus is slim so the plant capsules release thousands, sometime over a million to overcome these odds. Horticulturalist germination of seeds involves use of fruit based sterilized agar gels that provide the needed carbohydrates. Because pollination is also a complex process where great numbers are required, the orchids remain open and receptive to pollinators for long periods. The fruit depicted here is the typical orchid capsule that spits open (dihisces) along six suture lines, while the tops and bottoms remain connected. The leaves spring out like thick grass-blades from the base, similar to other monocots and members of the order Asperagales. The cultivated house garden variety carry these leaves in thick bushels whereas many along the Kalalau had one or two large leaf strands at their base.




Latin Name: Plumeria rubra


Family: Dogbane (Apocynaceae)


Location: Kilauea


Native to: Columbia, Venezuala, Central America, Mexico

Fun Facts: There are more than 300 varieties of plumeria flowers. So Hawaiian that I was very surprised to learn it is not native to Hawaii but introduced: “like, gee Scoob, what could be more Hawaiian than plumerias?” “Ra raggy”. Some of the most beautiful flowers out there. Fragrant with stunning colors and seen all over as large bushes or small trees and propagated by leafless cuttings of shoots taken in the spring. Although well integrated into Hawaiian culture and a fabulous addition to leis, in Mexico its common name was Suchitl or Cacaloxochitl, which in Nahuatl means Crow's flower.  Australian's call it Frangipani.


Join me as we discover more exciting species in part II!!









1.Wickipedia website.

2.Palmpedia site.

3. University of Hawaii Native Plants website.




Posted by Anne Eliason on
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Posted by Analyticfood on Sunday, January 22nd, 2023 at 10:53pm

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