Headed To Hawai’i? Here Are 5 Plants Worth Seeking Out on The Islands
Hawai’i is one of those special places in the world where plant life is apparent from the moment your feet hit its soil. Whether a lei is placed around your neck, the fragrance of plumeria floods your nose, or the rush of lush green soothes your eyes, you are instantly aware that you’ve entered a tropical paradise.
The Hawai’an islands are the most isolated land mass on the planet, which has helped the land cultivate the highest percentage of endemic plants in the world. Over 90% of Hawai’an native plants are found nowhere else on the planet. However, many of the plants we associate with Hawai’i, such as sugarcane and pineapple, were brought to the islands from other tropical locations. Want to get to know some of the sublime, significant and striking plant life? Here are five plants to look out for next time you are in this American Shangri-La.
Although there are about 1,300 species and 47 genera of ginger, the torch ginger has the largest, tallest, and perhaps most decadent bloom of all gingers. Although not a native plant of Hawai’i, the torch ginger was brought to the islands by the Polynesians from Southeast Asia.
Once here, the name “Torch Ginger” was derived from the bloom’s resemblance to a Hawai’ian torch. The enormous pink or red flowers grace the islands from March to December and make beautiful, long-lasting cut flowers for tropical arrangements.
Kalo aka Taro
Taro, known as kalo in Hawai’ian, is a culturally-significant plant on the islands. Taro is planted in large flooded fields, known as lo’i, to cultivate important staples of Hawai’i’s native cuisine including poi, a starchy pudding made from pounded taro corms; taro chips; and taro leaves– used to wrap meats in traditional luau foods such as laulau (taro-wrapped pork). Every part of the kalo plant is edible when cooked.
Hawai’ian lore and language ties the concept of taro and family together. The Hawai’ian creation story holds that Wakea, god of the sky, had two sons. The first son was born lifeless, but grew into a kalo plant after being buried. Wakea’s second son is considered to be the first born Hawai’ian and the common ancestor of all Hawai’ians. Today, the Hawai’ian word for family, ohana, comes from the taro plant. The offshoots that grow in a circle from a parent taro are called oha. These oha mature and grow into an new generation of kalo. Eventually, the offshoots from a single kalo plant can fill up an entire lo’i field. Ohana means “many oha”– an invocation that continues to exemplify the Hawai’ian concept of large, extended families.