Long before the human settlement of the Hawaiian island chain, the Islands were devoid of plant or animal life. Over thousands of years seeds, insects and birds made their way to the Hawaiian archipelago. Populating the Islands this way was slow - it is estimated that only one plant every 90,000 years was added to the Hawaiian landscape.
The early Polynesian voyagers who arrived in Hawaii around AD 500-800 brought plants with them that they needed for food, such as breadfruit, taro, banana, sweet potato and sugarcane. Other plants they brought were needed as building materials, such as the ti plant to make clothing. Later settlers brought mangoes, papayas, pineapples, passion fruit and a variety of vegetables, as well as flowers, including plumeria, orchids, protea, heliconia, ginger, jasmine (pikake) and hibiscus.
The arrival of early settlers in Hawaii with their plants and animals affected the Hawaiian flora in two ways. On the one hand, it led to a more diverse Hawaiian flora. New plant species were introduced and grew on the Islands. On the other hand, it led to the disappearance of many endemic varieties. Some introduced plant species are fast growing and lead to a crowding out of native and endemic species. These introduced species are also called invasive species. Unable to adapt to the changes in the surroundings, many endemic plants gradually died and disappeared over time. From the onset of human settlement in the Islands, it is estimated that one endemic plant vanished every nine months.
Introduced to the Islands by a German botanist in 1860, the plumeria thrived in the tropical climate and volcanic soil of Hawaii, and several varieties unique to Hawaii have been bred. During World War II, it was a popular custom among sailors, and later other travelers, to toss a plumeria lei into the water as their ship passed Diamond Head. If the lei floated ashore, they would return. If it floated toward the ship, they wouldn't be coming back.
Today, it is not uncommon to see visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial dropping individual plumeria petals into the water to honor the fallen. You can find plumeria made into lei at Island airports, and plumeria trees along Hawaii roadways, around hotels and public buildings and growing in the wild along Hawaii Island’s coastlines and many Oahu trails.
Of all the types of flowers that grow in Hawaiʻi the diversity in Maui is sure to impress even the most educated botanist. Many types are recognized with ease. From lilies and variegated roses to the ever popular exotic tropicals, pretty much everything grows easily on Maui. Numerous tropicals from all over the world are here including the more highly specialized flowers such as protea from Africa and Australia.
Because Maui has 17 of the 20 known worldwide climate zones, there is always an area to grow just about any kind of flower that exists.
In addition to this are many flower farms and nurseries which supply resorts, flower shops and stores with fresh flowers daily. On top of that Maui’s finest flora is shipped all over the world. Our Maui tours often include stops at flower farms and other places along the road where you can learn about all the incredibly diverse varieties we have on the island (while learning our Hawaiian flower names too).
Copyright Alina Brown 2018