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The Flowering Plants of Hawaii (beta)

Part 53 Arecaceae-Bromeliaceae


coconut palm
Cocos nucifera. Mature tree with a full load of nuts.

This family is probably better known to most visitors by its alternate name, Palmae, the palm family. This is the home of the most island-symbolic of all plants, the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, niu or ololani in Hawaiian (see image). There is only the one species in the genus Cocos (Arecaceae consists of 2,400 other species in 189 genera). The Polynesians took two types (varieties) of coconuts on their journeys, niu hiwa and niu lelo. According to the definitions in Pukui and Elbert (p. 268), niu hiwa is a variety with a black shell that was used ceremonially, medicinally, and for cooking; while niu lelo, the yellow coconut, was used in many ways, but neither ceremonially nor medicinally. In simple usage, hiwa means entirely black; while lelo means yellowish.

The nearly endless uses to which almost all parts of the coconut plant have been put include: a source of food (the coconut meat) and beverages (coconut water, coconut milk, alcoholic variants thereof), as a source of fiber, as a source of building material (both leaves and trunks), as a commercial oil source, in the crafting of eating vessels and baskets, in jewelry manufacture, in decorative plantings, and in rituals of one sort or another. It is obvious that the Malays knew of the omnipotence of the coconut for in their language the coconut is called "the tree of a thousand uses." Other uses show up from time to time as seen in the illustration (see image), an application that I have not found mentioned elsewhere.

coconut palm
Coconuts used as street address markers.

The Manual states that the Hawaiian Islands are home to about 19 species in the genus Pritchardia, which number has been under discussion more recently (see references to Hodel). The genus occurs otherwise in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and the Tuamotus.

The common name for the genus is loulu. In 1977 a new species of loulu was found growing in the Limahuli Valley in northwestern Kaua`i. Several specimens of P. limahuliensis (see image), named to recognize its area of origin, are being maintained in the Limahuli Garden. The conservation status of Hawaiian members of the genus has been discussed by Chapin and coworkers.

Pritchardia limahuliensis
Pritchardia limahuliensis in the Limahuli Garden.

Recent work at the Smithsonian Institution included two species of Pritchardia in a study of leaf anatomy of palms in relation to biophysical (strength) and ecophysiological (response to environmental stress) features, the Maui endemic P. arecina (East Maui) and P. pacifica, a native of Tonga and the Fijian Islands. Analysis of structural data of representatives of 161 genera of palms revealed that Pritchardia is most closely related to Washingtonia. Washingtonia is a genus of two species, W. robusta, native to northwestern Mexico, which was the species used in the study; and W. filifera, which is native to southwestern North America (it is the palm of Palm Springs, California).

The genus Archontophoenix, the king palm, is native to tropical and subtropical Queensland, Australia. It consists of two or six species depending upon authority. Archontophoenix alexandrae image) is widely cultivated; its strikingly colored fruits (see image) aid in identifying this palm. This palm can be seen growing in low elevation, damp sites along the eastern coast of Hawai`i from Hilo north along the Hamakua Coast. These photographs were taken in the vicinity of Onomea Bay, not far from the Hawai`i Tropical Botanical Garden (a private, commercial garden north of Hilo not affiliated with the NTBG).

Archontophoenix alexandrae
Archontophoenix alexandrae in the Inter-island Terminal, Honolulu airport.
Archontophoenix fruits
Archontophoenix fruits on a leaf segment.


An immature pineapple fruit

Bromeliaceae, the family to which the pineapple belongs, are not included in the list of plant families present in the Hawaiian Islands despite the immense impact that that plant has had on the economic and social history of the islands. Following the rule that families are only included if one of their members has become naturalized on the islands, the pineapple fails. Ananas cosmosus (or A. sartivus in some treatments) (see image) is a native of tropical America along with some 2,650 other species in 59 genera. In addition to providing a major commercial crop. the family also provides a number of decorative plants. The interested reader should consult J. K. Ten Bruggencate's 2004 book entitled Hawaii's Pineapple Century.

Literature cited…

Chapin, M.H., K.R. Wood, S.P. Perlman and M. Maunder. 2004. A review of the conservation status of the endemic Pritchardia palms of Hawaii. Oryx 38: 273-281.

Hodel, D. R. 2007. A review of the genus Pritchardia. Palms 51: S1-S53.

Hodel, D. R. 2009. A new species of Pritchardia and the rediscovery of P. lowreyana on Oahu, Hawaii. Palms 53: 173-179.

Pukui, M. K. and S. H. Elbert. 1986. Hawaiian Dictionary. University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu.

Ten Bruggencate, J. K. 2004. Hawai`i's Pineapple Century–A history of the crowned fruit in the Hawaiian Islands. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, HI.

November 11, 2012

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Dicot Families:

Monocot Families:

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