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Hawaiian endemic Koki’o ke’oke’o (Hibiscus arnottianus) Photo: CTAHR

HFI was awarded a grant for a new project titled “Go Native: Growing a Native Hawaiian Urban Forest”. The project includes creating a series of videos and a quick reference guide encouraging Hawaii’s residents and businesses to grow Native Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants, as well as to increase public awareness of the value and benefits of planting native plants and trees.

The videos will target a non-technical lay audience and will walk the viewer through the stages of creating or converting their landscape to native and/or Polynesian- introduced (“canoe”) plants.

The guide will enable gardeners, landscape architects, and others to identify the different native plants most suitable to their climate zone, personal tastes, gardening experience, and other factors. It will provide clear guidance and take the guesswork out of planning and realizing a native garden, while eliminating frustrations caused by a lack of success.

The grant is funded by Kaulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and State and Private Forestry branch of the USDA Forest Service, Region 5.

Paul Arinaga and Travis Idol were interview on HPR, Go Native HPR Interview.

Press Release: “Go Native: Growing a Native Hawaiian Urban Forest,” August 5, 2020

Go Native Hawai‘i: Restoring Nature from Mauka to Makai” article: HFI Go Native Article July 2021


Best Native Plants for Landscape, CTAHR Melvin Wong Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences

Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced) USDA Forest Service, Elbert L. Little, Jr., and Roger G. Skolmen


Please help us grow the Native Hawaiian Urban Forest >> CLICK TO DONATE NOW

The Vision: A Systems Approach to Hawaii’s Native Forests

As the Forest Action Plan states:

“Our islands’ ecosystems are more dramatically and intricately connected than those on continents. Because of these tight connections, integrating urban forest issues into landscape and island-wide management efforts is necessary.”

There has been a tendency to view urban areas as somewhat of a “lost cause” and as separate from upland forests and other preservation areas. In reality, however, we should view our islands’ eco-systems holistically—as a single system. Originally, nature flowed uninterrupted from mauka to makai. Today, up to 95% of Hawaii’s dryland forest has been destroyed while only 40% of mesic forest remains.[1] Nearly 10% of the state’s 1,360 native plant species have already gone extinct. Another 236 native plant species in Hawaii each has fewer than 50 plants remaining in the wild. Even though we cannot reverse decades of development, by strongly encouraging homeowners and businesses to incorporate native plants into their landscaping, we can create a patchwork of native forest throughout urban areas.

We should view our islands’ eco-systems holistically—as a single system.

While decidedly imperfect compared with the original forest, this ‘Native Hawaiian Urban Forest Network’ would offer many benefits such as providing a refuge for native animals; wildlife corridors for native invertebrates, birds and bats; preserving the full complement of genetic variation within plant and animal species; and preserving cultural and spiritual links with the past. Creating the Native Hawaiian Urban Forest Network could also help to increase the redundancy, representation and resiliency of existing forests. The authors of Hawaii: Mesic Forestsby the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, note that: “Greater representation of mesic forest subunits…provided more opportunity for the biome to adapt and evolve under changing conditions.” They also speculate that mesic forest regeneration likely occurred through transportation of seeds by wind and native birds[2]and that native forest birds and insects were also important pollinators.[3]

If we build a Native Hawaiian Urban Forest Network of sufficient size and density, native birds, native insects such as the Kamehameha butterfly and perhaps even the Hawaiian hoary bat may be able to extend their current range. In addition to benefiting wildlife, forests and the environment as a whole, growing native plants also requires less use of fertilizers, pesticides and water, and reduces air pollution. According to Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst, author of Growing Native Hawaiian Plants: A How-To Guide for the Gardener, “many native plants, especially those native to coastal and dry forest areas will help reach Hawaii’s goal of reducing wasteful watering practices (xeriphitic or drought-tolerant landscaping).”

“We can’t roll back decades of development, but we can restore some of the nature that used to flow uninterrupted from mauka to makai.

Please help us grow the Native Hawaiian Urban Forest >> CLICK TO DONATE NOW


[1]State of Hawaiʻi, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) (2016) Hawaiʻi Forest Action Plan 2016, 306 p. Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

[2]Carlquist S (1980) Hawaii a natural history: Geology, climate, native Flora above the Shoreline, 468 p. Honolulu, HI: National Tropical Botanical Garden.

[3]Cox PA and Elmqvist T (2000) Pollinator extinction in the Pacific Islands. Conservation Biology 14(5): 1237–1239.

Riparian Plant Restoration


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