Natural History: Native Plants
In Native Plants , we will discuss the dispersal of native plants to Nawiliwili Bay, the kind of physical environment they found, and the types of ecosystems (living things interacting with the physical environment) that developed. In coastal plants, lowland dry and mesic forest, and the wet forest, we will discuss the dominant (most common) plants of each zone.
All the graphs, maps, and charts, except the 500' contour map, in Native Plants are from Atlas of Hawai‘i Third Edition, by Sonia P. Juvik; James O. Juvik; and Thomas R. Paradise.
Because Hawai'i is more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, native plants could only have arrived by long distance dispersal. To the right are estimates of how plants were able to get here.
The ancestors of native birds and plants came from different land masses surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Once they arrived, they adapted to the new environments and began to change. 90% of the 1000 or so native flowering plants and 70% of the 150 or so native ferns have changed so much that they are endemic (found only one place on the planet) to Hawai'i. (Atlas of Hawai'i)

In Hawai'i, the type of ecosystem is determined by three factors: elevation, the amount of rainfall, and the dominant plants.

Any area below 3000 feet is considered a lowland, or a coastal zone. To the right, the blue contour line is drawn at 500 foot intervals. Most of the ahupua'a of Nawiliwili Bay are below 500 feet in elevation The exceptions would be Haupu Ridge, Kilohana, and the western mountains of Ha'iku. Where would the 3000 foot contour line be?
There are three categories for the amount of rain. They are dry - less than 50 inches a year; mesic (moist ) - from 50 to 100 inches a year; and wet - more than 100 inches per year.(Atlas of Hawai'i) We can see in the chart above that most of the ahupua'a of Nawiliwili Bay fall into the mesic. Some portions of the western border of Ha'iku qualify as wet.
There are six types of dominant vegetation considered in Hawaiian ecosystems:
Forests and woodlands are basically trees.
Shrublands are branched shrubs
> 3.3 feet.
Dwarf Shrublands are shrubs< 3.3 feet
Grasslands are covered by grasses and sedges.
Herblands are small, non woody plants.
Deserts have very few plants.
(Atlas of Hawai'i)
When we call this a lowland mesic forest - you know what we mean. Photo by Sam Gon III from Atlas of Hawai'i.
Native ecosystems are determined by their elevation, the amount of rainfall, and the dominant plants. Lets look at the native coastal plants of Nawiliwili Bay. This is the area Hawaiians called ko kaha kai.
Created June 2001