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Canoe Plants of Hawaii


Canoe Plants refers to plants that were brought by ancient Polynesians and introduced to the Pacific Islands when they first inhabited. The settlers came to the islands via canoe, so the plants varieties they brought with them are now designated “Canoe Plants”.

It is thought that the Canoe Plants were considered sacred and most useful to the ancient peoples. The Canoe Plants were or became so important to the ancient settlers that they are often now believed to be indigenous species. Sugar Cane, Banana, Coconut, Taro, Bamboo, all of these iconic “Hawaiian” species are not actually native to the islands.

The exact number of Canoes species is unknown, twenty-four species are fairly universally agreed upon. Many other species are suspected to have been introduced and there is a blurring as some species that were believed introduced may have also been native. Coconut may be one of these and Hala, which was originally believed to be a Canoe Plant has been found in the fossil record indicating that it was either Native or Native and Canoe.

The origin and name of the original settlers of Hawai’i are unknown, but it is clear that they came to the islands and brought with them the items that were most critical to their long terms survival. It is believed that cuttings, seeds, fruit and roots were stowed during their journey and used to cultivate many of the plants we see on Hawaii today.


List of Known Canoe Plants:


Alocasia macrorrhizos

Common Name: Elephant Ears



Tephrosia purpurea

Fabaceae family



Piper methysticum

Common Name: Kava


‘Awapuhi Kuahiwi

Zingiber zerumbet

Common Name: Shampoo Ginger, Wild Ginger



Lagenaria siceraria

Common Name: Bottle Gourd



Colocasia esculenta

Common name: Taro



Calophyllum inophyllum

Common Name: Alexandrian Laurel


Cordyline fruticosa

Common Name: Ti


Saccharum officinarum

Common Name: Sugarcane



Aleurites moluccana

Common Name: Candlenut Tree



Musa spp.

Common Name: Banana



Thespesia populnea

Common Name: Portia Tree



Cocos nucifera

Common Name: Coconut Palm



Cocos nucifera

Common Name: Coconut Palm


‘Ohe Hawai‘i

Schizostachyum glaucifolium

Common Name: Bamboo


‘Ōhi‘a ‘Ai

Syzgium malaccense

Common Name: Mountain Apple



Curcuma longa

Common Name: Turmeric



Tacca leontopetaloides

Common Name: Polynesian Arrowroot



Ipomoea batatas

Common Name: Sweet Potato



Dioscorea alata

Common Name: Yam



Artocarpus altilis

Common Name: Breadfruit



Broussonetia papyrifera

Common Name: Paper Mulberry









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