Hawai'i is the most isolated land mass on the planet. At 2,500 miles from any other land, it has developed a unique and fragile ecosystem with over 3,000 native species of plants and animals, many of which are endangered or near extinction. Hawai'i has six vegetation zones: coastal, lowland rain forest, montane rain forest, subalpine, alpine, and dry leeward, another feature that makes the Big Island unique and a great place of bio-diversity.
Many of the plants that one would normally equate with Hawai'i aren't native at all. Pineapple and sugar cane were brought to the islands as a cash crop and many other plants were brought as ornamentels. Hawai'i spends millions of dollars each year trying to keep invasive species from crowding out native plants and animals.
The Big Island produces all sorts of exotic fruits. One of the best ways to sample them is to visit the Hilo Farmer's Market (Wednesdays and Saturdays - get there early). At the Farmer's Market, you'll see bananas, mango, papayas and pineapple, but not just the same ones you see in mainland stores. You'll have your choice of about each variety. So you won't be buying just regular bananas, you might get apple bananas or finger bananas. The best mangoes are the Hayden variety. Other exotic fruit include lychee, rambutan, longan and mangosteen. Some edible plants that you'll see when hiking are guava, strawberry guave, passionfruit (lilikoi) and 'ōhelo berries.
To find details about any edible plant listed below simply click the picture or the plant name.
Flowers & Non-Edible Plants
The Orchid Isle is not just another idle name for the Big Island - indeed, orchids abound on the Big Island - mainly due to the humid yet cooler climate on the east side. But the Orchid Isle is much more than just a home to orchids - over 1,800 types of flowering plants live here. Most of the plants have been brought in over the years as ornamentals and from there entered the wild.
To find details about any flower listed below simply click the picture or the flower name.
The Hawaiian Islands are home to thousands of species of trees, more than anywhere else in the world and far more than we could possibly document here. Below, however, we have listed information about some of the more important, common and interesting trees that can be found on the Island.
To find details about any tree listed below simply click the picture or the tree name.
Ferns are found everywhere on the Hawaiian Islands, and the Big Island is no exception. Approximatly 170 native fern species grow in Hawai'i and about 65% of them are endemic (not found anywhere else in the world). Ferns were used for many items including hats, stuffing for pillow, food and medicine.
To find details about any fern listed below simply click the picture or the fern name.
Grass and Sedge
There are many varieties of grass and sedge in Hawai'i. Some varieties are native while many others were brought in as cattle feed.
To find details about any grass listed below simply click the picture or the grass name.
Many plants have been brought to Hawai'i as ornamentals or as food sources for livestock. In many cases the plants grow extremely well in the tropics and have a tendency to get out of control and spread. For example, the South American Banana Poka is a vine that kills native plants in Hawai'i's rainforest by suffocating them. Another plant invader from South America that is considered as one of the most dangerous threats to Hawai'i's ecosystems is the Miconia. In Tahiti the Miconia is called the brown tree snake of the plant world because it can choke out many native plants.
If you make a positive identification of any of the plants below, growing on PUBLIC land, either destroy the plant or contact authorities. (Do not touch plants growing on private land.)
To find details about any invasive plant listed below simply click the picture or the plant name.
Hawai'i has only one native land mammal, the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. The fact that it is isolated by 2,500 miles of ocean from land meant that it was impossible for most land mammals to survive any random journey. The few mammals Hawai'i has today, such as the feral pig, mongoose and rat are the result of human contact. Also missing from Hawai'i are snakes. Hawai'i actually has one snake, which looks more like a worm than a snake - but no other snakes are found on any of the island (and the state goes to great pains to ensure it stays that way).
What Hawai'i lacks in land mammals, it more than makes up with birds, insect and ocean dwellers. With more than 200 native fish, 10,000 native insects and over 1,000 types of land snails the islands are teaming with rare and beautiful creatures.
Among the birds found in Hawai'i are several species of Hawaiian Honeycreeper most of which are endangered, Hawaiian Duck or Koloa, Hawaiian Coot, and Lysan albatross. A very awe inspiring bird is Pueo, the Hawaiian Owl (Asio flammeus sandwicensis), it is an interesting owl because it is active during the day and can often be seen above the pastures of Waimea. Birds imported to Hawai'i include mynas, sparrows, cardinals, and doves.
To find details about any bird listed below simply click the picture or the bird name.
Hawai'i is home to exotic and colorful marine life. From the state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a (Rhinecanthus rectangulu ) to the Humpback Whale (the official state marine mammal) Hawai'i has diversified ocean life.
Many species, such as the various turtles that inhabit Hawai'i, are protected as endangered animals and approaching them or harassing them is illegal. Some species of marine life in Hawai'i are not only beautiful but can also be dangerous, such as Cone Snails, Moray Eels, Scorpion and Lion Fish, and of course sharks (though Hawai'i has a low rate of shark attacks).
To find details about any creature listed below simply click the picture or the name.
Reptiles & Amphibians & Snails
The Hawaiian islands (and surrounding waters) are home to five species of amphibians and 28 species of reptiles - and of these only five species are indigenous.
There are two species of snakes in Hawai'i... a poisonous sea snake, and a non-poisonous land snake which is so small most people think it is a worm. There are no other snakes in Hawai'i (and most literature you read says there are absolutly NO snakes in Hawai'i, but they overlook the tiny native snake). Hawai'i strictly enforces the no-snake rule and planes are frequently inspected for snakes (especially from Guam). If snakes make it to Hawai'i they would destroy the fragile ecosystem as well as endanger many native and indigenous species.
The Islands of Hawai'i also was home to over 750 species of Land and Tree Snails, many of which are now extinct or endangered.
To find details about any animal listed below simply click the picture or the animal name.
Insects & Arachnids
There are lots of insects and arachnids in Hawai'i. One of the most famous are the Hawaiian Happyface spider. One very destructive insect is the termite. There are many endemic species of moths on the Big Island, some of which are thought to be able to detect the calls of one of their biggest predator, the Hoary Bat.
To find details about any insect listed below simply click the picture or the insect name.
Hawai'i has only two native mammals: the Hawaiian monk seal or Ilio holo kai, (Monachus schauinslandi) and the Hawaiian hoary bat, Ope'ape'a(Lasiurus cinereus semotus). While the Monk Seal is mostly found on the remote, unihabitated islands and atolls of the northwest islands, about 25 Monk Seals do live on Kaua'i and in 2005, a Monk Seal was found in a secluded bay along the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, giving birth to her pups. The Hoary bat is nocturnal and roosts during the day in trees. The Big Island has one of the biggest populations of the bats. They are found in dry and wet areas, and from sea level to 13,000 ft. They eat moths, mosquitoes, beetles, flies, crickets, and stink bugs
Polynesion immigrants later brought pigs. Horses, goats, sheep, European pigs and cattle were brought by European settlers. Many of these animals, especially the European pig, have caused extensive problem endangering many plant and animal species.
One imported mammal that hard to miss is the "Hawaiian squirrel", the Small Asian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus). Often seen running across the road, the mongoose was brought to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to control rats. However, it was an ill-conceived idea as rats are nocturnal and the mongoose is a daytime creature. The mongoose is credited with endangering various bird species as they eat the eggs and fledglings of ground-nesting birds.
To find details about any mammal listed below simply click the picture or the mammal name.