12 Varieties of Trees in Hawaii

Hawaii is a group of volcanic islands that are highly biodiverse, home to over 25,000 species of unique flora and fauna. The unique climate and weather patterns of the island greatly influence the life it hosts. 

The variety of microclimates in Hawaii means it can be divided into different environmental zones including rainforest, coastal, alpine, parkland, and dry leeward. As such, there are a vast array of different trees in Hawaii , including 53 species that are found nowhere else on Earth. 

Hawaii has a tropical climate and its USDA hardiness zones range from 9 to 13. This article covers 12 unique tree species that thrive in the hot and humid climate of Hawaii.

12 Types of Trees in Hawaii

Each species of tree in Hawaii differs greatly in size, shape, leaf pattern, how they grow, and where they grow. To help you find your perfect tree from the list below, I have provided essential information for each species, including their average height and optimum conditions. 

Flowering and Fruiting Trees

A large number of trees in Hawaii produce flowers that develop into fruit over the growing season. Among the exotic fruits, you can find coconuts, avocados, papaya, lychee and dragon fruit.  

Evergreen Trees

Some species of trees in Hawaii remain green throughout both the summer/dry season and the winter/wet season. Their lush foliage provides colour, life and shelter even in the coldest of months. 

Native and Endemic Trees

As a result of geographical isolation and unique climatic conditions, Hawaii has a large number of native and endemic trees. Around 90% of Hawaii’s native species are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world. 

12 Varieties of Trees in Hawaii

Of all the amazing tree species found across Hawaii, I have narrowed it down to a list of 12 that collectively cover the different types that exist. For each species I have provided all the essential information, from its physical attributes to ideal conditions, to help you make an informed decision.

1. Ōhi’a lehua Metrosideros polymorph

Ōhi'a lehua Metrosideros polymorpha
Credit: Frank Schulenburg by CC: 3.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun or partial shade 
  • USDA Zones: 10 and 11
  • Average Mature Height: 30 to 40 feet

Ohi’a Lehua is the most common tree in Hawaii and is also known as the Pride of ‘the law. It’s an evergreen tree that has grey-brown branches covered in small, ovular, green leaves. 

The flowers are fiery red and densely dispersed throughout the tree on fine stalks. They are a key source of nectar for many birds, including the honeycreeper. During the summer months, this tree produces small clusters of red-orange berries. 

Adapted to growing in volcanic soils and are often the first plants to colonize areas of lava flows. As such, this tree is associated with Pele, the volcano deity. Ohi’a Lehua is slow growing but very hardy. 

2. Papaya Tree Carica Papaya

Papaya Tree Carica Papaya
Credit: Zezinho68 by CC: 4.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 9 and 10
  • Average Mature Height: 10 to 15 feet

The papaya tree is a fast-growing evergreen that also goes by the name papaw. It has a slender, scaly brown trunk and a crown of deeply lobed leaves on the end of long stalks. The tree fruit all year round produces ripe, yellow papayas.

Papaya trees are grown locally in Hawaii and are a common sight across backyards. Around 90% of Hawaii’s papayas are grown in the Puna district as it receives plenty of rain. 

Tropical and subtropical climates are best for the papaya tree as they are not particularly hardy. Ideally, they should be kept between 70oF and 90oF and receive regular watering. Papaya trees can be easily grown in containers since they are short-lived and have shallow roots. 

3. Koa Tree Acacia koa

Koa Tree Acacia koa
Credit: Forest and Kim Starr by CC: 3.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 10 and 11
  • Average Mature Height: 50 to 80 feet

The koa tree is the largest tree species that is native to Hawaii and can reach up to 115 feet in height. This fast-growing evergreen boasts a very wide, umbrella-like canopy that can reach up to 40 feet in width.

The leaves of this tree are long, green and slightly downturned. During the blooming season, the koa tree produces small, yellow flowers that are finely coated in purple or red hairs. The thick, dark wood of the tree is often used to make furniture and instruments. 

Koa trees are hardy and easy to care for as once established, they require little watering. This species is endemic to Hawaii and naturally grows at high elevations, ranging from 200 to 6,500 feet above sea level. 

4. Almond Tree Prunus dulcis

Almond Tree Prunus dulcis
Credit: David Bena by CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 9 and 10
  • Average Mature Height: 10 to 15 feet 

The almond tree, also known as the luau tree, is a deciduous, flowering tree. Native to the Middle East, almond trees thrive in the Mediterranean climate of Hawaii. There are two varieties of almond trees, either weeping or upright. Between February and March, almond trees boast beautiful pink and white blossoms that smell strongly of nutty vanilla.

Following the blossom, elongated green leaves and almonds begin to sprout. The green almond hull cracks open in July, exposing the almond nut inside its shell. Generally, almond trees are fairly hardy, but frosts can damage the buds and the nut yield. 

Almond trees thrive in dry and hot climates but also need to be exposed to the cold for a few hundred hours to break their dormancy. They can survive in a wide variety of soil types and are fairly drought resistant. 

5. Mangrove Tree Rhizophora mangle

Mangrove Tree Rhizophora mangle
Credit: Esha2022 by CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 12
  • Average Mature Height: 20 to 75 feet 

Mangroves are specially adapted to living in saltwater. They have very long roots, part of which they keep above the water so they can breathe. They also secrete salt from their waxy, green leaves. During the spring and summer months, mangroves will produce small clusters of white and yellow flowers. The red mangrove is the most common species in Hawaii. 

Ecologically, mangrove forests are important as they protect shorelines from erosion and provide habitats for many fish species. Mangroves begin growing whilst still attached to the parent, before being dispersed into the water where they float until they take root. 

Mangroves are extremely hardy trees that grow in brackish, low-oxygen waters. However, they are tropical species and cannot survive in freezing temperatures. As such, thrive in Hawaii as it is the closest US state to the equator. 

6. Jacaranda Tree Jacaranda mimosifolia

Jacaranda Tree Jacaranda mimosifolia
Credit: Sheba by CC: 2.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
  • Average Mature Height: 25 to 50 feet 

Jacaranda is an ornamental tree that is grown in Hawaii and other tropical areas of the world. It also goes by the name blue jasmine due to its attractive blue and purple blooms that appear during the spring and summer. The flowers have yellow centres, and their leaves resemble of ferns. 

Jacaranda grows best in sandy soils and is fairly drought-tolerant once established. These evergreens are easy to maintain, so long as they are kept above 40oF as they are not tolerant to frost. 

7. Screwpine Tree Pandanus fascicularis

 Screwpine Tree Pandanus fascicularis
Credit: Dinesh Valke by CC: 2.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 10 and 11
  • Average Mature Height: 20 to 30 feet 

The screwpine is a palm-like evergreen that grows in coastal lowlands of tropical areas, such as Hawaii. This tree can be easily identified by its large, stilt-like roots that are exposed above the ground. 

The large, arching leaves called pandan leaves are widely used throughout Asian recipes. Female screwpine trees produce large, edible fruit that resembles a pineapple, called the hala fruit. These trees are hardy to drought but not frost. 

8. Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis

Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis
Credit: Z Thomas by CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 10 to 12
  • Average Mature Height: 50 to 75 feet 

The cannonball tree is so called due to the large, round, woody fruits it produces all year round. The fruits grow from the trunk of the tree, rather than the branches. Preceding the fruit are large, pink-red flowers that remain for only one day. 

Although the fruit is edible it’s rarely consumed by people because it has a pungent smell and unpalatable taste. Cannonball trees grow best in rich, porous soil that is watered regularly. 

Native to the Amazon basin, the cannonball tree thrives in Hawaii since it is the only US state that has tropical rainforests.

9. Golden Shower Tree Cassia fistula

Golden Shower Tree Cassia fistula
Credit: A. J. T. Johnsingh by CC: 4.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 10 and 11
  • Average Mature Height: 30 to 50 feet 

Also known as the umbrella tree, the golden shower tree boasts bright yellow flowers in the summer. They bloom in clusters that elegantly dangle down from the branches, encompassing the tree. This tree is a common sight across Hawaii and the Caribbean Islands as it thrives in tropical regions. 

When not in bloom, the golden shower tree is evergreen meaning green foliage remains present annually. As such, this tree is popular for adding colour all year long. It produces dark, elongated seed pods that can be consumed by humans as a laxative.  

10. Banyan Tree Ficus benghalensis

Banyan Tree Ficus benghalensis
Credit: Jasonbook99 by CC: 3.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to part shade 
  • USDA Zones: 10 to 12
  • Average Mature Height: 70 to 100 feet 

The banyan tree is a large, tropical, evergreen tree. It’s very unusual looking because it has aerial roots that descend from its branches into the ground below. Once they take root in the soil, they become new trunks. 

Banyan trees have been grown across Hawaii since the late 1800s. They have become a common sight and prominent features on the islands. 

During the blooming season, banyan trees produce flowers which turn into red, fig-like fruit when they are ripe. Whilst the fruit is not consumed by people, it attracts a variety of birds. The large, leathery banyan leaves, however, are commonly used to wrap or present food.  

11. Parana Pine Araucaria angustifolia

Parana Pine Araucaria angustifolia
Credit: Webysther Nunes by CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to part shade 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 12
  • Average Mature Height: 80 to 100 feet 

The Parana pine is a very important timber tree. These evergreens grow to great heights and have long, thin trunk that bears whorled branches near the top. The crown of the tree consists of dark green, needle-like leaves. 

Introduced to Hawaii in the late 1800s, Parana pine trees have since become a common sight across the forests of the state. They grow well in the subtropical climate Hawaii offers. 

Parana trees are often cultivated because their strong and heavy wood is perfect for crafting furniture. Oblong-shaped pollen cones grow on these trees and once they are mature are harvested by a number of animals that consume the large pine nuts they contain. 

12. Jackfruit Tree Artocarpus heterophyllus

Jackfruit Tree Artocarpus heterophyllus
Credit: Dinkun Chen by CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • USDA Zones: 10 to 12
  • Average Mature Height: 50 to 70 feet 

The jackfruit tree has a dense canopy made of stiff and glossy green leaves. Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, with a single fruit typically weighing around 33 pounds. A single, mature jackfruit tree can produce up to 200 fruits each year. In the tropical climates of Hawaii, they are capable of fruiting all year round. 

Jackfruit has thick, bluntly spiked skin that is bright yellow when ripe. Inside, the sweet, yellow flesh can be eaten raw but is popularly used as a vegan alternative to pulled pork when cooked and marinated. 

Jackfruit trees require rich and porous soil that is constantly kept moist but not soggy. These trees have a taproot that is long and deep, meaning they are difficult to transplant. They grow well in Hawaii due to its warm and humid climate. 

Hawaiian Tree Care 

Although all the trees on this list are different species, there are a few aspects that overlap when it comes to caring for them. 

Watering Requirements

Typically, most trees dislike heavily saturated soils as they can lead to waterlogging and root rot. Aside from a few exceptions, like the mangrove, the soil should be kept damp to provide sufficient moisture. 

Position 

Since Hawaii is in the tropics, the trees that grow there thrive in hot climates. Ideally, Hawaiian trees should be planted in locations where they will receive full sunlight and the soil is kept warm. 

Soil Type

Due to the climate, most trees in Hawaii are relatively drought tolerant and can survive in most soil types, so long as they are rich and well-draining.

Feeding

Generally speaking, most established trees do not require fertilizer if their conditions are favourable. However, young trees and fruit trees will benefit from fertilization.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the official tree of Hawaii?

The kukui tree or candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccana) was made the state tree of Hawaii in 1959 because their ancestors relied on this tree for a multitude of uses, including medicine, fuel, and dye. 

If you enjoyed reading this article, click the link here to learn more about Growing Palm Trees in your garden

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.