How to Grow Hawaiian Plants


The term "Hawaiian plants" can refer to all of the plants that grow in the aloha state, just the native plants or include the "canoe" plants the first Polynesian settlers introduced. Any tropical plant can grow in Hawaii, and many articles and books exist that describe how to grow them. However, the specific conditions needed for growing native plants and the early introductions are not as easy to find. From kava kava to the loulu (the endangered Hawaiian fan palm), the canoe plants and natives are easier to grow than some people might imagine.

Step 1

Fill in cracks and holes in lava rock with a 1/3-1/3-1/3 combination of topsoil, black volcanic cinder and organic compost, such as macadamia nut compost. These amendments are available on many of the islands. If your property has soil, amend it by digging in equal amounts of topsoil, black volcanic cinder and organic compost. Combine 50 percent of your soil with 50 percent of the amendments.

Step 2

Purchase native plants and early Polynesian introductions at a specialty nursery or botanical garden. If you don't know your elevation, it's good to find out because these plants grow only at specific elevations. For example, the scented maile vine grows only at higher elevations, where it is cooler and wetter than near the coast.

Step 3

Dig a planting hole slightly larger than the root system of your plant. Take it out of its nursery pot and gently shake the roots to loosen them. Then set your plant into its planting hole and fill it with the amended soil you dug out.

Step 4

Water your plant well by running a hose at a slow drip at its base for up to 1 hour, thoroughly saturating the soil. If your plant is a water lover, give it supplemental deep weekly water if rains do not occur. If it needs less moisture, monitor the soil's moisture by putting your finger into the soil mixture---if it feels dry 2 inches deep, that's the time to water.

Step 5

Fertilize your Hawaiian native plants and canoe plants with compost if you want. Spreading a 2-inch layer of mulch such as compost, wood chips or other organic material will keep the soil mixture cool and moist, keep weeds down and nourish your plant naturally, which is how it receives plant food in its native environment.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't expect to have success growing native Hawaiian plants outside of the tropics unless you have special conditions, such as those in a botanical garden greenhouse.

Things You'll Need

  • Appropriate elevation and climate
  • Topsoil
  • Volcanic cinder
  • Macadamia nut compost or other organic compost
  • Shovel


  • University of Hawaii: Native Plant Genera
  • "Growing Hawaii's Native Plants"; Kerin L. Lilleeng-Rosenberger; 2005
  • University of Hawaii: Native Plants Hawaii
  • To Hawaii: Plants in Hawaii

Who Can Help

  • Native Hawaiian Plant Society
Keywords: Hawaii native plants, introduced species, Polynesia tropical

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.