Lindsay and Kely Rodrigues eliminate invasive weeds on their family land in the Waihee Valley with the intention of growing native species once found in their area. For them, planting natives is more than just putting a plant in the ground.
“I’m proud to live in Hawaii, to be Hawaiian, and to plant native plants.” Lindsay explained. “Planting a native is like a time capsule and helps me understand the connection between us, my naau, my kupuna and this aina. Being in Hawaii and being Hawaiian makes sense to do that.
Hawaii is home to some of the most unique plant species in the world. Continental plant species arrived on the islands without the help of humans. They arrived by one of the three Ms – makani (wind), moana (ocean) and manu (birds). Seeds would blow in air currents, plants or seeds would float to our shores, and seeds from hitchhiking would cling to birds’ feathers – or in their digestive tracts. Millions of years of evolution have resulted in new plant species found nowhere else in the world, with plants adapting to every ecological niche on our islands. These ecosystems contribute to water collection and the recharge of freshwater aquifers, provide habitat for native birds and insects, and are closely tied to the foundations and practice of Hawaiian culture.
After the arrival of humans, the native plant communities rapidly declined. The alteration of landscapes, the arrival of hoofed grazing animals and the introduction of invasive plants have contributed to this. Today, Hawaii has earned the unfortunate nickname of being the Extinction Capital of the World. After millions of years of evolution, Hawaii has lost over 100 species in just a few hundred years. Seventy-five percent of the landscape is now non-native introductions. If you’re looking outside your window right now, chances are none of the plants you see are native to Hawaii.
This is changing however. With a growing awareness of the importance of native plants in Hawaii, residents are taking their shovels to incorporate more native species into our modern landscapes. Tamara Sherrill, executive director of the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, helps them.
“Residential areas are among the most important places to plant native plants. Ninety percent of our native plants are found only in Hawaii, so planting a landscape unlike any other place in the world not only helps the environment, but shows our pride in what makes Hawaii special” , Sherrill explained.
“Native plants have hundreds of Hawaiian cultural uses, and growing them helps prevent overharvesting in forests. They require less water (which saves on your water bill) and can also supply your home for making necklaces, traditional medicine and tea and as a source of materials for crafts.Depending on where you live, they can also provide food and habitat for native birds and insects.
April is Native Hawaiian Plant Month and the perfect time to start planting. Incorporating native plants into your garden doesn’t have to be daunting. Sherrill offers tips for getting started: “Before choosing your plants, find out your average rainfall and elevation. Learn your general soil type by calling Maui’s Master Gardeners or taking a sample at the UH-Maui Cooperative Extension Office. She adds, “Some native plants are tolerant of a wide range of environments, but most only do well in the areas they evolved in. For sea level and other warm areas of Maui, come take a look at what grows at the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens.” If you live in the outback or in more humid areas, the garden staff can help you find the plants from the nursery that would be best for your area.
The Maui Nui Botanical Gardens also hosts weekly native plant sales and giveaways, monthly workshops, work days every Wednesday and more. Visit and follow the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens for more on Instagram @mauinuibg or online at mauinuibg.org.
Back in Waihee, the Rodrigues family plans their next phase of planting and Lindsay explains their motivations: “I plant because I’m afraid of losing our native plant diversity. I want our next generation to experience what a truly Hawaiian landscape looks like. Planting natives makes me think about the future and how one day this little plant will grow into a tree that my grandchildren will sit under. I plant Hawaiian plants for connection and the future – for our aina and for our keiki.
* Serena Fukushima is the public relations and education specialist for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. She holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a graduate degree in education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Kia’i Moku, Guarding the Island” is written by the Maui Invasive Species Committee to provide information about protecting the island from invasive plants and animals that threaten our islands’ environment, economy, and quality of life.