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Which of these traditional foods are native to Hawaii ?

October 9, 2012

Take a close look. Can you identify the traditional foods that are native to Hawaii ? Photo by J. Wicart.

From left to right: sweet potato, kalua pork,  dried banana, sugercane, coconut, kulolo (taro, coconut), breadfruit, dried fish, haupia (coconut, arrowroot) 

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Answer: The fish is the only food pictured here that is native to Hawaii. Taro, coconut, sugarcane, sweet potato, breadfruit, pigs, banana, and arrowroot were brought to Hawaii by people. Although none of these species are native to Hawaii, they play an important part in shaping the landscape and supporting Hawaiian culture.

This food illustrates an important distinction for many natural scientists… the difference between calling a plant or animal “native”, “non-native”, or “invasive”. A simple way to consider the issue is:

Native species arrived in Hawaii without human intervention via one of the “3 Ws” = wind, water, or wings. The Hawaiian hoary bat is a good example.

Non-native species were brought to Hawaii by people. Most of the foods pictured above are in this category.

Invasive species were also brought to Hawaii by people, sometimes unintentionally, and they have detrimental effects on Hawaii’s ecosystems by displacing or destroying native species. Strawberry guava fits this description.

So enjoy your traditional, although perhaps not “native”, ono grinds.

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