Native Vs. Exotic Plants

Hawaii's Prettiest Pests

OK all you botanical xenophobes (and I mean that in the nicest possible way)...

As a preview to a Morning Edition series coming to a public radio station hear you, Talking Plants is taking a sneak peek at the plant pests of HAWAI'I. I figure some of you are headed there in the next few months, so this may be my best chance to pack another agenda into your luggage.

Bolivian fuchsia

One of the prettiest pests on Kaua'i is the so-called lady's eardrops, Fuchsia boliviana, which started showing up in the 1960's and has now made it onto Hawaii's list of Most Invasive Horticultural Plants. Given that it likes life in moist forests, I'd say it's found its niche. photo credit: Ketzel Levine hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine

Folks who visit Hawai'i (and we are many in the Pacific NW) often come back raving about the state's incredible flora. And sure, it's pretty. But most of what people rave about are introduced invasives that have gone hog wild.

common houseplant leaf

When I first looked up into a lush, green Kaua'i hillside, I was overwhelmed by the plant with the large, glossy leaves. Overwhelmed turns out to be how I'd now describe what schefflera has done to scads of the islands. photo credit:Scott Kinmartin hide caption

toggle caption photo credit:Scott Kinmartin
banana poka

An appropriately unflattering pix of the banana poka, a variety of passion vine, that has become Hawaii's answer to kudzu. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Many of the "Hawaiian" plants that turn heads — the bold yellow ginger, the crimson African tulip trees, the multi-colored lantana — are not merely non-native, they are trouble. And that includes everyone's favorite houseplant, the schefflera, a greedy plant also known as the octopus tree that has undoubtedly snatched a few extra acres of Kaua'i since you first started reading this post.

Other smothering lovers include the shrubby princess flower (anyone from the Bay Area knows that purple-flowered Brazilian beautygirl, Tibouchina urvilleana)...and the bad bad bad, die! die! die! banana poka (link has video), alias Passiflora mollisssima, a rapacious passion fruit vine (yes, that's redundant).

"So what's an apolitical fun-loving tourist supposed to do about all this?" you may ask. Support thems that give a damn, I answer. Dig deep when you visit Hawaii's botanic gardens and arboreta and leave a generous donation, 'cause it ain't cheap to keep paradise under control.

Kaua'i coastline

Behold the old axiom, beauty's in the eye of the beholder. What does it do to your perception of the Kaua'i coastline once I tell you this lush green foliage is all invasive flora? photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I know a couple who are both ecologists and didn't go to Hawaii for their honeymoon because they decided all the invasives would be depressing! Well done post on an important topic - nice photos too.

Sent by Marielle Anzelone | 7:25 PM | 12-13-2007

Aloha Ketzel,
I hope you got to see some of our beautiful and often unique native plants while you were here. There are over 900 native species of flowering plants here, and most occur only in Hawaii. University of Hawaii botany professor Dr. Gerry Carr has a website devoted to photos of native plants:

Sent by J. B. Friday | 2:08 AM | 12-14-2007

Hi Ketzel
Glad to see some national attention being paid to Hawaii's invasive species problem. I would love to see more of it, including attention given to our endangered speceis probelm as well. Your post was accurate and well stated with one exception, visitors can also donate to organizations like the Kauai Nature Conservancy and Kokee Resource Conservation Program. These are folks who work in the field every day in Kauai's prestine forests actively controlling the spread of invasive species. There are also state and federal organizations that can't necessiarily take donations but could always use legislative support for continued funding. Anyone interested in learning more should visit the Hawaii Ecosystems at Risk website
Thank you for noticing and sharing an often misunderstood, serious threat to Hawaiis unique ecosystem.

Sent by kristin hall | 7:09 PM | 12-14-2007

Thanks for your great coverage of invasive plants in Hawaii! It's great to see them getting good coverage in national media.

The previous commenters "stole" :) most of the ideas that I was going to comment on--which is GREAT! It means folks are paying attention!

For one thing, "be careful what you wish for." Arboreta and botanical gardens are (historically--and perhaps, in some cases, currently) some of the organizations that often IMPORT invasive plants into Hawaii. Hopefully, they're being educated now--but make sure they're "walking the walk" before donating money to them if you want it to go towards helping the cause against invasive species in Hawaii.

I'd also like to "second" J.B. Friday's comment about making sure to appreciate Hawaii's native flora (approximately 90% of which is ENDEMIC to Hawaii--meaning that these species occur NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH). The biggest threat to Hawaii's native species is loss of habitat (and other problems) due to invasive species. More information about some of Hawaii's native plants is available via links at

Some other groups working towards reducing threats of invasive species to Hawaii are listed at

(And thanks, Kristin, for bringing the Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk project [] to folks' attention!)


Sent by Philip Thomas | 4:21 PM | 12-16-2007

Spread the word, guys - I'm hoping my two-part series on Hawaii's natives will be airing shortly on Morning Edition, and once it does, I'll devote a bunch of blog posts to the subject.

Thanks for all your comments and the heads up about donating to nature conservancies and conservation programs. Dope slap!

Sent by ketzel levine | 4:34 PM | 12-16-2007

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