Coastal Plants
Although the coastal zone of Nawiliwili Bay lacked the great variety of plants found in coastal environments in the south Pacific islands, the indigenous coastal plants at Nawiliwili would have been familiar to Hawaiian explorers, who called this zone ko kaha kai.


The kaha kai, or coastal zone, of Nawiliwili Bay is made of coral, basalt cliffs, sandy beaches, and basalt and coral boulders.

Plant photos in this section are courtesy of the UH Botany Dept. Descriptive text is taken from How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden, an online handbook.
The native plants along the coast were mostly dwarf shrublands. We can see in this old photo of Kalapaki that the natural vegetation was much less than 3.3 feet high.. Notice the pond behind the house. When the Westin Hotel dug their swimming pool here, they had problems dealing with the water from this spring.
Here are the most common coastal native plants that would have grown in this area before human arrival. Most are indigenous (naturally occurring here and in other parts of the world). They are resistant to the water loss caused by salt spray.
Pohuehue - Ancient Hawaiians used the seeds, roots, and leaves as a cathartic and as a poultice for skin ailments and broken bones. Indigenous to beach areas on all the main islands. Surfers whip the sea with long strands of pohuehue to encourage high waves for surfing Naupaka kahakai - the only non endemic naupaka of eight species in the islands
'Ilima - indigenous to all the islands, `ilima is the island flower of O`ahu. Parts of the `ilima were used medicinally, flower buds as a mild laxative for children; bark of the roots mixed with other plants and water, strained and drunk as a kind of tonic. Hinahina ku-kahakai - Hinahina ku-kahakai is widely distributed throughout Polynesia. In Hawai`i, it occurs in rocky or sandy coastal areas on all islands except Lana`i and Kaho`olawe. Designated as the island flower for Kaho`olawe, its silvery rosettes are prized as a lei material.
'Akulikuli - indigenous
Akiaki - indigenous

Hala -
indigenous. Hala was valued
most for its tough pliable leaves for
plaiting mats, canoe sails, baskets,
and other domestic articles. Fleshy
ends the keys of ripe hala fruit are
cut from the hard seed end and sewn
into a lei. These fleshy ends also were
cooked and eaten during famine,
or eaten raw. Dried keys were used
as brushes for decorating tapa, and
the pollen from the hinanao (male flower) was used as a love potion.

- found in low swampy areas, as well as valley bottoms. Ancient Hawaiians used the light but durable wood for floats, booms, canoe outriggers and for starting fires. Bast, or the inner bark fibers, were made into cordage. Possibly indigenous.
Moving inland from the coast of Nawiliwili Bay, the original Hawaiian settlers saw strange native plants that were uniquely different from the plants of their old home. This was the lowland dry and mesic forest, a place that Hawaiians would change and adapt to their own uses. A place that Hawaiians called kula.
Created June 2001