Field of Science

Kauai - Botanical paradise?

A recent travel news article called Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands, a botanical paradise, and then talked about the all the remarkable plants: crotons, bougainvilleas, plumerias, philodendrons, mango, guava (!), poinsettia, hibiscus, and so on. No question that such plants grow well, even luxuriously in the wet tropical climate of Kauai, but like most visitors to this island, the travel writer had not seen one single native plant. The plants they noticed are what the Phactor calls "UTF", ubiquitous tropical flora, widely planted ornamentals. There are two factors at work here. One, people always bring plants with them from where ever they come, and this started with the Polynesians and has continued to this day. Two, plants and animals native to islands are often unable to deal with vigorous invaders having evolved in a place with few natural enemies. And like lots of immigrant organisms, organisms brought to islands become invasive in new habitats devoid of their natural enemies. So you have to look hard and walk some distances to find any native plants on Kauai. But you will see guava every where, a very easy plant to recognize with its smooth cinnamon-colored bark, and when guava arrived, whenever that was, but guava is a terribly invasive plant in Kauai. Invasions of immigrants take a terrible toll on native species. So while a pretty place, quite lovely in fact, and well worth visiting sometime, Kauai is more of a botanical disaster zone than a botanical paradise.

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