Growing a Native Hawaiian Garden

Whether you're an established or aspiring gardener, here are some native plants that are (hopefully) easy to grow.


Photos: David Croxford

Hinahina, Ground cover

This succulent heliotrope requires full sun and can be grown in coastal, dry, windy areas. Its leaves will look more succulent the less it is watered; but, it does need regular watering during cultivation and when grown in a pot. It reaches 4 to 20 inches high when mature.

Hinahina can be grown from seeds or cuttings and tends to like a potting mixture that contains perlite, which can be purchased at garden shops.


Ihiihi Lauakea

Ihiihi Lauakea, Water Fern

This water fern’s fronds unfurl in a violin-scroll shape, and when it mellows in deep, standing water, its spores release, intermingle and unite (referred to as “having sex”) to form new plantlets.

Ihiihi lauakea will live in ponds, jugs, and even Tupperware, and can be grown from plant segments or from spores. Cultivating spores could become quite the project: it requires sterilization, misting with distilled water and general fussiness.

Ilima Papa

Ilima Papa, Ground cover

This one you can eat! Sort of. The small, bright yellow flowers can be used as a pretty garnish you can pop in your mouth (and according to ilima eaters, they taste OK).

Ilima papa likes full sun and not much water. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. It reaches 6 to 12 inches high and can be grown from seeds or cuttings.

In order to eat, remove the flower from its calyx.


Nau (Gardenia Brighamii), Flowering Shrub/Small Tree

This native Hawaiian gardenia is a tough shrub that will make your yard (or lanai or terrace) smell great. It is drought and pest resistant when mature and has a scent similar to other gardenia, but with a note of coconut.

Nau likes full sun or partial shade and once it reaches 3 to 6 feet tall it flowers and requires water only in very dry settings. It can be grown from seeds or cuttings.


To purchase these plants, contact:

Hui Ku Maoli Ola: Hawaiian Plant Specialists, 46-403 Haiku Rd., Kaneohe, 295-6580, This nursery carries more than 140 species.

Home Depot, Oahu locations in Kapolei, Honolulu, Pearl City. The Pearl City location has a section devoted to Native Hawaiian plants.