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What Kind of Plants You Can't Grow in Hawaii?

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Paul Wood writes on sustainable island gardening in Hawaii in the "Sunset Western Garden Book" and states "just about every plant thrives in Hawaii, but oddly enough, not everywhere." While the 50th state boasts a warm tropical climate, exposure to wind and elevation radically affects what plants prosper on one island but fail on another. Plants native to arctic or temperate regions fail to prosper in Hawaii, or take considerable effort or keen siting in Hawaii to grow nicely.

Deciduous Trees

Trees typical of the American mainland, especially those regarded for intense fall foliage displays, are not good plants to import to try and grow in a Hawaiian landscape. Temperate-zone native plants need an annual dormancy each winter with appreciable cold temperatures. Failure to receive ample chill prohibits flowering, increases chances for disease and depletes energy from the roots. Don't expect to see healthy aspen, sugar maple, larch, birch, crabapple, apricot, cherry or plum trees in Hawaii. Exceptions exist, as some species of fruits or shade trees may adapt to the highest elevations on the islands.

Evergreen Trees

Some warm-temperate and Mediterranean species of evergreen trees grow well in the highlands of Hawaii, but for the most part, Hawaii's summers are too hot and its winters too warm for many conifers to grow. Fir, spruce, hemlock, yew, arborvitae and many species of pine often seen in gardens and landscapes in Canada and the mainland United States simply won't grow there.

Spring Bulbs

The only way for Hawaiians to enjoy spring flowering bulbs is to pre-chill them in the refrigerator before planting them in the soil. Tulip, snowdrop, crocus, daffodil, hyacinth and other common bulbs enjoyed on the North American continent will not produce flowers in late winter or spring if not first exposed to two to four months of chilly soil temperatures.


Unless a mountain peak in Hawaii mimics the climate of the mountains from which an alpine plant from another continent originates, alpine plants don't grow in Hawaiian gardens. Alpine plants include widlflowers and shrubs adapted to long, cold winters and short, cool summers--neither of which occurs across the Hawaiian islands. Don't expect to find edelweiss, mountain pinks, rockcress, rosebay rhododendron or moss campion in Hawaii.

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