Canoe plants are the foundation of Polynesian culture

The Mountain Apple, brought to Hawaii centuries ago by Polynesian voyagers, is in spectacular bloom now. The cerise pompon like flowers will soon become a delicious crimson fruit containing one seed. The tree is easily grown from seed. (Voltaire Moise/Special to West Hawaii Today)

When the first Polynesian arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, there were no coconut palms here. There were no mountain apple, breadfruit, kalo and many other plants we think of as Hawaiian. If you think that kukui, bananas, and ti are natives and seem to grow easily, then it is time to rethink! These plants are alien, non-native species brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians as they migrated across Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. These are referred to as canoe plants. They were important to the survival, especially when Polynesians explored new islands and found those like Hawaii lacked the variety of fruits and medicinal plants they needed.