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The Hawaiian islands are home to a unique and diverse collection of native trees found nowhere else on Earth. If you’re wondering what trees originally called Hawaii home, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Some of the most notable native Hawaiian trees include koa, ohia lehua, wiliwili, kukui, halapepe, ohe, and iliahi.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the full list of native trees in Hawaii and provide details on each species including identifying features, traditional uses, current conservation status, and where they can be found in the Hawaiian islands today.

Full List of Native Hawaiian Trees

Koa (Acacia koa)

The magnificent koa tree, with its sweeping branches and curled wood grain, is one of Hawaii’s most iconic trees. Called the “King of the Hawaiian Forest,” koa trees can grow over 100 feet tall and were traditionally used to make Hawaiian canoes, surfboards, and ukulele.

Today, koa wood is still prized by artisans for its beauty and strength.

Ohia Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha)

The ohia lehua’s brilliant red pom-pom blossoms are an iconic sight across Hawaii’s landscapes. This ecologically vital native tree forms the backbone of many Hawaiian forests and provides habitat for native birds and insects.

Sadly, up to 90% of ohia have succumbed to rapid ohia death fungus in some areas, threatening this keystone Hawaiian tree.

Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis)

With its bright coral-colored blossoms, the wiliwili lights up Hawaii’s dry forests and coastal areas. Hawaiian royalty once used the wiliwili’s lightweight wood to make surfboards and canoe floats.

Today this drought-tolerant tree is a popular ornamental tree, but many native wiliwili are threatened by introduced pests and habitat loss.

Kukui (Aleurites moluccanus)

The kukui tree has many uses in Hawaiian culture – its oily nuts were once burned in lamps to light grass shacks, and the nuts and leaves are used as a natural dye. Towering kukui trees with their broad crowns still stand guard over ancient Hawaiian temple sites today.

Modern Hawaiians value the tree’s shade and enjoy stringing its nuts into beautiful leis.

Uluhe (Dicranopteris linearis)

The rainforest fern uluhe forms waist-high thickets on the forest floor, its fine curled fronds creating a soft, springy carpet. Ancient Hawaiians used uluhe fronds for bedding, basket weaving, decorations, and sandals.

Today uluhe fern patches provide shelter for native forest birds and insects.

Iliahi (Santalum spp.)

Several native Hawaiian sandalwood (iliahi) trees and shrubs grow across the islands’ diverse ecosystems. The fragrant heartwood of Hawaiian sandalwood has been treasured since ancient times.

Over-harvesting devastated wild trees, but efforts to replant iliahi and preserve rare individuals offer hope of restoring this culturally vital resource.

Also read: Hawaiian Trees With White Flowers: A Comprehensive Guide

Key Identifying Features of Native Trees


The koa tree (Acacia koa) is one of the most recognizable native Hawaiian trees, with its expansive, umbrella-shaped crown and beautifully figured wood used for furniture and crafts.

Koa can grow over 100 feet tall, with deeply furrowed gray-brown bark and large bipinnately compound leaves.

Bright yellow puffball flowers appear in spring, attracting native birds that feed on the nectar. Koa grows in upland forests across the islands.

ʻŌhiʻa Lehua

The ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) is a keystone canopy species in native Hawaiian forests, meaning its ecological role impacts many other organisms.

Its brilliant red pom-pom blossoms appear year-round, giving rise to its Hawaiian name which means “lehua flower with many breaths”.

ʻŌhiʻa can exhibit incredible adaptability depending on environmental conditions, growing as a prostrate shrub mere inches tall or maturing over 100 feet as a tree. Identifying features include simple, elliptical leaves with prominent veins and showy clusters of stamens in the flowers.


Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) is one of Hawaii’s most flamboyant native trees, exploding into bloom December-April with bright orange-red pea-like flowers. These give way to pale green seed pods up to a foot long.

Wiliwili has smooth gray bark and large, evenly spaced thorns on the trunk and branches. Its trifoliate leaves resemble those of the related coral tree but are thicker textured. Wiliwili once formed extensive dryland forests in Hawaii but is now a candidate for endangered species listing due to habitat loss.


The candlenut or kukui tree (Aleurites moluccanus) forms part of many ancient Hawaiian legends and uses. It towers up to 60 feet or more, with light gray, vertically furrowed bark.

Large, heart-shaped leaves distinguish kukui, along with white fragrant blossoms and round fruits containing oily nuts once burned for light.

extracts from the nuts, leaves, bark and roots entered into medicines, dyes and wood preservatives for early Hawaiians.


The uluhe fern (Dicranopteris linearis) blankets rainforests in Hawaii up to 7000 feet elevation with its enormous, deeply divided fronds. Growing in dense colonies, uluhe forms tunnels and impenetrable thickets that offer shelter and seclusion.

Identifying features of uluhe are the upright, narrow, simply pinnate fronds up to 13 feet long, with alternate, hairless pinnae. Hawaiians once used the coiled emerging fronds (fiddleheads) as a vegetable and parts of the plant to treat coughs and fever.


ʻIliahi (Santalum spp.) refers to Hawaii’s native sandalwood trees, of profound cultural significance yet severely depleted from overharvesting by early western traders.

Most abundant today is ʻiliahi (S. freycinetianum var. lanaiense), a sprawling, parasitic shrub on Lānaʻi island.

Once covering dry forests statewide, identifying features of Hawaiian sandalwoods include reddish heartwood, oval leaves with silvery undersides, small purple flowers on fleshy stalks, and fruits like tiny green apples.

Traditional and Modern Uses

Wood for Canoes and Carvings

Native Hawaiian trees like koa, kou, milo, and kamani have traditionally been used to construct Hawaiian canoes (wa’a). Their strong and durable wood is shaped and hollowed out to make various types of sailing and fishing canoes.

The art of ancient Hawaiian wood carving, using native woods like koa, niu, and kou, is seen in ceremonial artifacts, temple structures, household implements, and furniture.

Materials for Tools, Weapons, Household Items

In ancient Hawaii, wood from native trees was vital for crafting essential items for daily life. Kamani wood was the preferred material for building thatched houses as well as for making weapons, tools, containers, musical instruments, and furniture.

The extremely hard koa wood was crafted into fearsome native Hawaiian war clubs called leiomano.

Medicinal Purposes

Various parts of endemic Hawaiian trees have been used in traditional herbal medicine for centuries.

Kukui nut oil derived from the official state tree of Hawaii has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents along with skin moisturizing properties.

Modern research has shown the medicinal efficacy of over 50 species of Hawaiian medicinal plants.

Reforestation and Conservation

Deforestation caused a drastic decline in koa and other native trees which are now the focus of reforestation efforts in Hawaii. Non-profit conservancies like The Nature Conservancy have planted over 650,000 native trees to help endangered Hawaiian forest birds survive.

Studies show that mixed native forests sequester carbon at much higher rates than non-native trees.

Ornamental Landscaping

The natural beauty of Hawaiian forests has inspired extensive use of native plants for ornamental landscaping. Koa and kamani trees along with exotic palms, ferns, and vibrant flowers create a signature Hawaiian look in landscapes.

Stately avenues lined with flowering monkeypod trees can be seen across neighborhoods in Oahu.

Conservation Status and Threats

Invasive Species

Invasive plant and animal species pose a major threat to native Hawaiian trees. Introduced plants like gorse, miconia, and strawberry guava outcompete native species for water, nutrients, and space. Feral goats, pigs, and deer browse on and trample seedlings and saplings.

According to the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council, over 9,000 introduced plant species now grow in the islands, and only about 1,000 of those are considered beneficial. Controlling invasive species is crucial for protecting rare native trees.

Also read: The Largest Land Predator In Hawaii

Habitat Loss

Conversion of land for agriculture, ranching, residential use, and other development has destroyed over 90% of native Hawaiian forests over the past 200 years.

This habitat loss threatens tree species that have very limited ranges, such as the Alani (Melicope knudsenii), which is endemic to Kauaʻi with only 21 mature individuals known to exist in the wild according to IUCN Red List.

Climate Change

Rising temperatures, declining rainfall, increased storms, and other climate change impacts further stress native Hawaiian trees already struggling on degraded landscapes.

A 5-year study on O‘ahu’s southern Ko‘olau mountains found mortality rates for dominant tree species like ‘ōhi‘a (Metrosideros polymorpha) increased substantially from 2008 to 2012 amid a severe drought.

Climate change models predict conditions will continue to get hotter and drier in the islands.

Fungal Pathogens and Disease

The invasive fungus Ceratocystis lukuohia causes rapid ‘ōhi‘a death (ROD), which can kill a mature tree within weeks. Since the disease was first reported on Hawai‘i Island in 2010, ROD has led to the death of over a million ‘ōhi‘a trees.

The fungus spreads mainly via wounds and open sores caused by wind damage and injuries from falling trees. There is no known cure for ROD at this time.

Reforestation Efforts

Government agencies, conservation groups, private landowners, and volunteers are working to restore native forests through tree planting programs across Hawai‘i.

Notable efforts include the Three Mountain Alliance rapidly expanding koa forest on former pastureland on Hawai‘i Island and the Nāpili Coastal Dune Restoration planting over 11,000 native shrubs and trees in west Maui.

Still the state’s Reforestation Program reports less than 4% of Hawai‘i is covered in protected native forest compared to an estimated 90% before human arrival. Much work remains to be done.

Where to Find Native Trees in Hawaii Today

Koa Forests (Big Island and Kauai)

The koa tree (Acacia koa) is one of Hawaii’s most iconic native trees. Vast koa forests can still be found today in upland areas on the islands of Hawaii and Kauai.

On the Big Island, head to areas like Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge and the Kohala Mountains to see impressive koa stands up to 100 feet tall.

On Kauai, Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks protect thousands of acres of koa-dotted landscapes. The famous 17-mile long Alakai Swamp Trail passes through remote wet forests with koas draped in mosses and epiphytes.

Wet Ohia Lehua Forests (East Maui and Windward Sides)

The ohia lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), forms vital wet forests on the rainy windward slopes of islands like Maui and Hawaii. Haleakala National Park on East Maui has stunning stands of ohia lehua, along with many other native trees and plants.

On the Big Island, visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to traverse the Kipuka Puaulu Trail through an enchanting closed-canopy rainforest dripping with mosses, ferns, and ohia lehua blooms. Such wet ohia forests are home to some of Hawaii’s rarest birds like the Maui parrotbill.

Dryland Forests (Leeward Sides and Coasts)

On the leeward, drier sides of the islands, dryland forests dominated by native wiliwili trees (Erythrina sandwicensis) can still be found today. Small pockets of such forests exist in areas like Auwahi on Maui and Ka’upulehu on Hawaii’s North Kona coast.

These forests, adapted to less annual rainfall, contain unique native plants like Hawaiian gardenia (Gardenia brighamii) and ua’u ferns (Sadleria cyatheoides). At lower elevations near the coast, native trees like lama (Diospyros sandwicensis) and hala (Pandanus tectorius) may fringe beaches or populate valleys.

Island Key Native Tree Areas
Maui Haleakala National Park, Auwahi Forest Reserve
Hawaii Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
Kauai Waimea Canyon State Park, Koke’e State Park, Alakai Wilderness Preserve

Parks and Preserves

In addition to Hawaii’s national and state parks protecting native forests, there are also various forest reserves, natural area reserves, and private conservancy lands with concentrations of native trees.

On Oahu, the Nature Conservancy’s Waianae Kai Forest Reserve has restored over 700 acres of native forest. On Molokai, the Kamakou and Pelekunu Preserves, though difficult to access, safeguard thousands of acres of intact forests with exceptionally high densities of Hawaii’s rarest plants.

Botanical Gardens and Arboretums

For easy access to many Hawaiian native tree species in one location, visit one of Hawaii’s exceptional botanical gardens or arboretums. The National Tropical Botanical Garden has locations across Hawaii growing over 5,000 native plant species. On the Big Island, the Amy B.H.

Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden specializes in native Hawaiian flora used by early Polynesians. On Maui, the Kahanu Garden spotlights the island’s extraordinary plant diversity. Such gardens play a crucial role in conservation, research, and education about Hawaii’s unique flora.

Also read: What Is The State Tree Of Hawaii?


The native flora of Hawaii is incredibly unique and an important part of the islands’ natural heritage. Thanks to reforestation efforts in recent decades, many of the trees listed here are recovering from near extinction.

We hope this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of the diversity of trees native to Hawaii. Understanding and preserving these endemic species is critical for maintaining the health and biodiversity of Hawaii’s precious island ecosystems.

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