Hawaii's remote location has kept it isolated for thousands of years, giving the native plants the opportunity to develop their own characteristics without outside disturbance. Over the centuries, Hawaii's tropical plants have adapted to the unique weather and topography of the state. Development is causing many of these plants to become endangered, but scientists are developing propagation methods to ensure they will not disappear altogether.
Hawaiian cotton (Gossypium tomentosum, Gossypium hirsutum, Gossypium sanvicense) is also known as Ma'o and Huluhulu. Both the flowers and the seeds are used to make the traditional Hawaiian Lei. The plant grows from 1-1/2 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet in diameter either as a clump of flowers or as a ground cover. The plant produces lobed leaves covered in soft, white hairs that grow up to 4 inches wide and almost as long. Bright yellow flowers resemble those of the hibiscus, measuring 3 inches across. The flowers bloom all year. Hawaiian cotton grows in partial shade and prefers dry, rocky soil. It is native to all of the islands except for Hawaii.
Ma'o hau hele
Ma'o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei) is the state flower of Hawaii and grows from 3 to 15 feet tall with a diameter of 8 to 15 feet. Fuzzy leaves develop 3, 5 or 7 lobes and grow up 6 inches long and the same in width. Yellow flowers with a maroon center measure 4 to 6 inches in diameter and grow as single flowers or in small clusters at the ends of the branches, opening only between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The plant blooms profusely from spring through early summer and sporadically during the rest of the year. The plant is found in dry areas on all of the main islands with the exception of Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe.
Nehe (Wollastonia integrifolia, Lipochaeta integrifolia, Lipochaeta porophila, Microchaeta integrifolia) grows as a spreading vine with stems up to 6-1/2 feet long and forms a mat from 6 to 8 inches thick. Oval, thin, green, succulent leaves measure up to 1-1/4 inches long, Yellow flowers resemble a daisy, measure 1/2 inch wide and rise above the leaves growing as singles or in clusters of two or three. The flowers bloom throughout the year, and both the flowers and seeds are used to make leis. The plant is found along the coastal areas of all the main islands.
Maile (Alyxia oliviformis, Alyxia myrtillifolia, Alyxia olivaeformis, Alyxia sulcata, Gynopogon olivaeformis) grows as a vine or spreading shrub. The leaves are dark-green on top and pale green on the underside growing up to 3-1/2 inches long in two to four clusters. The yellow-white flowers are tiny and delicate. Maile is adaptable to both dry or wet conditions and is found on all of the islands, with the exception of Kaho'olawe and Ni'ihau.