Native Plants



‘Āheahea is a shrubby plant that is endemic to Hawai`i. Researchers studying red-footed booby nesting behavior at Kīlauea Point found this seabird had a preference for lining its nest with ‘āheahea leaves. The leaves wilt in the nest and create a nice humid environment for the egg during incubation. The boobies also break off the brittle, woody stems of the older plants to build their nests. This Hawaiian species was propagated from seeds and planted at Kīlauea Point as part of native plant restoration efforts on the refuge. ‘Āheahea is related to a mainland plant called lamb’s quarters which is an edible weed and ‘āheahea was also cooked and eaten by native Hawaiians.


`Akia is a coastal shrub endemic to Hawai`i. It has been planted on the refuge as part of the native plant habitat restoration efforts, but is not yet as commonly seen in the public use areas at Kīlauea Point as some of the other natives. The small yellow flowers grow as clusters at the end of the branches and the red or orange berries stand out in contrast to the small grayish green leaves. The tough leaf tips and the berries are used in lei making. This native coastal has become a very popular plant used in landscaping for homes, hotels and commercial sites because the attractive `akia is easy to propagate and manage due to its hearty nature.  


`Akoko is one of the more commonly seen endemic plants along the pathway out to the lighthouse at Kīlauea Point. The leaves are silvery green and when the leaves are broken they turn red like blood. This trait may have contributed to the Hawaiian name of this plant since “koko” means blood in Hawaiian.  The flowers are so tiny you must get very close to see them. The small sticky seeds mean that birds can unknowingly move them about, and that’s a good thing for plant restoration efforts on the refuge. Peek under the `akoko outside the Visitor Center and you can see a number of wedge-tailed shearwater burrows.


Hala is an indigenous tree that grows in Hawai‘i and throughout the Pacific.  This tree was planted out at various places on the refuge and is easily seen along the walkway out to the Point.  It is an important plant in Hawaiian culture and the thorny leaves, flowers, roots and fruits were all put to use in different ways, with the leaves valued for “lau hala” weaving. When the young fruit is on the tree it is often mistaken for pineapple by unknowing visitors, thus the nickname “tourist pineapple,” but as the fruit ripens each section, or “key”, turns an orange-yellow color and drops to the ground. Hawaiians used these dried out keys as paintbrushes.  The endangered nēnē geese on the refuge can be seen eating the starchy portion of the fallen keys during the fruiting season. 


The low growing, coastal form of ‘ilima was planted at Kīlauea Point because it is tolerant of the windy, dry conditions and it can easily be seen along the walkway out to the lighthouse.  The yellow-orange flowers are seen year-round. The ‘ilima, like so many of the other native Hawaiian plants, was put to good use by the Hawaiians but in modern times it is most known for its use in making the famous ‘ilima lei, which can use up to 1,000 of the paper-thin flowers for a single lei. 

Naupaka kahakai 

This indigenous coastal shrub, typically just called by its first name “naupaka,” was planted throughout the refuge because of its ease of propagation and heartiness. It is easily identified by its large, bright green waxy leaves and small white flowers and fruits. It may look familiar to visitors who’ve seen it while at the beach or even at their hotels where it is used commonly used as ornamental landscaping plant.  The flower is distinct in that it looks like it is only a half-flower and there are various versions of a Hawaiian tale about the half-flower. The fruits and leaves are edible but are not particularly tasty and were considered famine food by the Hawaiians.  Nēnē, on the other hand, indulge in the spongy white berries. Visitors sometimes see nēnē balancing atop the naupaka shrubs plucking off the fruits before they even drop to the ground. For seabirds and nēnē goslings, naupaka also provides valuable protection from the elements and from owls.


Niu, known by most people as coconut, is one of the very important “canoe plants,” so named because it was one of 24 vital plants brought in the canoes by the Polynesians who ventured to Hawai‘i.  These plants sustained life on the journey and upon arrival in their new world. The diversity and life-sustaining uses of niu by humans are surely unmatched by any other single plant. There is a small, old coconut grove visible on the left as visitors approach the public parking lot at Kīlauea Point. This grove was planted in the days when the lighthouse keepers resided on the refuge. 


Pōhinahina is another of the low-growing coastal endemic shrubs planted out at Kīlauea Point as part of the native plant restoration efforts.  It has small purple flowers and thick, silvery leaves that are typical of so many of the native coastal plants which are well adapted for the salty, dry, windy conditions where they are found. This plant has a strong, minty aroma and can be smelled even without crushing the leaves, just when walking by it.  It is said that the leaves rubbed on the skin act as a natural mosquito repellent, but visitors will have to try it from plants found elsewhere because picking of vegetation on the refuge is prohibited in order to protect the native plants.


Pohuehue is a native morning glory that is indigenous to Hawai‘i. It grows as a ground creeping vine with large, tough, waxy green leaves and a large pink flower. Though not so common on the refuge, it can readily be found on many of Kauai’s beaches and is important in reducing beach erosion. Pohuehue, like so many native plants was used by Hawaiian for its medicinal properties.   

‘ulei with fruit KViernes KPNHA.JPG



The plant, sometimes call Hawaiian rose because it is in the rose family, is indigenous to Hawai‘i and can be found from sea level to 7,500 feet. When it grows in the forest it can reach 10 feet tall and have strong, thick stems that the Hawaiians used for spears and digging tools. At Kīlauea Point, under the wind swept coastal conditions, ‘ūlei grows as a low sprawling shrub.  Small leaflets make up the shiny green compound leaves and small white flowers grow in clusters at the end of the branches. The small ripe fruits of this plant are eaten by nēnē. Seeds and other parts of the plant were used medicinally by the Hawaiians.