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Native Plants in The New Year 

Happy 2024! This month we are focusing on plants endemic to the islands. Hawaii has a very diverse plant population, with over 175 plant communities being recognized by botanists. However there are relatively few plants that are truly native to Hawaii. Many of those can be seen dotting the coastlines where they thrive in the hot and salty coastal regions of the islands. 

Akia (wikstroemia)

This dense native bushy plant has oval leaves that are a bluish-green color. Its bark, roots, and leaves have traditionally been used with bait to catch fish: ingesting the plant will make the fish “drunk”. In this drunken state they float up to the surface of the water, making them easy to grab. Also known as False Ohelo, Akia grows from sea level all the way up to 7,500 ft 

Elevation. It is very hardy and fairly slow-growing. Topping out at 3-4 ft, Akia is on the shorter side. It has yellow tubular flowers and red fruit, which is eaten by birds. There are around 12 species of it growing state-wide.

Blooming Akia 

Naupaka (Scaevola Sencea)

A native shrub with a storied past: according to the legends there was a Princess named Naupaka who fell in love with a man named Kaui, a commoner. Royalty and commoners were not allowed to marry, and this caused Princess Naupaka and her new love much distress. Seeking a solution, they climbed up the mountain to get advice from a Kapuna who lived there. He told them there was nothing they could do but pray, and as they began to pray, it started raining. The two embraced for the final time, Naupaka vowing to stay in the mountains while Kaui returned to the beach. As they parted, the Naupaka plants growing nearby saw the broken-hearted couple. The next day the plants began to bloom in half flowers. To this day there are two types of Naupaka plants – those that grow in the mountain elevations and those that grow on the coasts.Naupaka is very common to see at beaches and along coastlines in the islands, its distinct round leaves and white flowers and fruit dotting many popular beaches, like Hapuna and Kauna’oa beaches here on Big Island. It loves full sun.    

Naupaka foliage and flowers

`Akulikuli (Sesuvium portulacastrum)

A low, crawling plant with succulent leaves and pretty pink or purple flowers, Akulikuli (also called Seaside Purslane) grows thick and fast, making for a great ground cover. It can be found on the coasts of Hawaii and other Pacific islands. This versatile plant grows on both rocky and sandy terrain and in marshes. The plant is very hardy, handling wind, drought and salt very well. It enjoys full sun. The tiny flowers are used to make lei, and the leaves can be eaten (although they tend to be very salty!). Fun fact: during World War II this plant was listed as an emergency food.

Pohuehue (brasiliensis)

Also referred to as Beach Morning Glory or Goat’s Foot, this viny flowering plant is another species that’s common to many of Hawaii’s favorite beaches. It grows well in dry soil or sand and its flowers are a lovely light purple/pinkish color (there is also a white-flowering variety). The wandering groundcover loves full sun and will grow in higher elevations if given enough sun and drainage. It’s a popular choice for its help with soil erosion control. Although it has less lore around it than its fellow beach-dweller Naupaka, its blooms are vibrant and lush and its vines were once used to make lei.

Pohuehue (brasiliensis), Also known as Beach Morning Glory

There are many benefits to growing native plants here in Hawaii Nei, one being that since they are adapted to the island weather, they tend to be less needy and therefore are lower maintenance. By planting native you are also adding to the existing local habitats. Many plants endemic to Hawaii help with soil erosion, provide food and pollination for insects and animals, and help to conserve resources. We encourage you this year to learn more about native species and how to best co-exist with them.

Happy New Years from us at Grace Flowers! 

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