Before settlement, Hawaii had no fruits, vegetables, coconut palms, edible land animals, conifers, mangroves, or banyans. The early Polynesians brought in 27 varieties of plants that they needed for food and other purposes, like banana, sweet potato, breadfruit, sugarcane, and taro. They also carried along gourds to use as containers, ‘awa to make a basic intoxicant, and the ti plant to use for offerings or to string into hula skirts.

A green anole perches on a red Ti leaf.

A green anole perches on a red ti leaf. Photo © Samuel Jolly/123rf.

About 90 percent of plants on the Hawaiian Islands today were introduced after Captain Cook first set foot here.About 90 percent of plants on the Hawaiian Islands today were introduced after Captain Cook first set foot here. Non-Hawaiian settlers over the years have brought mangoes, papayas, passion fruit, pineapples, and the other tropical fruits and vegetables associated with the islands. Also, most of the flowers, including protea, plumeria, anthuriums, orchids, heliconia, ginger, and most hibiscus, have come from every continent on earth. Tropical America, Asia, Java, India, and China have contributed their most beautiful and delicate blooms.

Almost all of the mammals in Hawaii are introduced, and many have had severe and detrimental consequences for Hawaii’s natural environment and native species. Rats, mice, and mongooses thrive and are responsible for disease and the decline of ground nesting bird populations. Feral ungulates like pigs and goats destroy native forests as they root up and eat vegetation, creating fetid pools of water where mosquitoes thrive, contributing to the decline of forest bird populations through disease. In years past, grazing cattle were responsible for the deforestation of watersheds that led to landslides. Geckos, anoles, and chameleons are a few of the introduced reptiles that are common.

A green gecko hiding in the garden foliage.

If you search the gardens of Hawaii, you might find a green gecko hiding in the foliage. Photo © seltiva/123rf.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.