Whistler, W. Arthur

Permanent URI for this collection

DR. ART WHISTLER is a botanist whose field of expertise is the plants of the tropical Pacific islands, including Hawaii, the rest of Polynesia (including Samoa, Tonga, and Tahiti), Fiji, and Micronesia. Born and raised in Southern California, where he attended the University of California for his bachelor's degree (Riverside) and master's degree (Santa Barbara), he began his Pacific experience with a three year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps teaching college biology in Western Samoa (1968-70). Following the Peace Corps assignment, he moved to Hawaii where he attended the University of Hawaii and received his Ph.D. in Botany (1979), with his dissertation focusing on the vegetation of Samoa.

He subsequently became a lecturer in botany at the University of Hawaii until he received a post-doctoral appointment at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai. He worked at that garden for nine years as an ethnobotanist (a scientist who studies how people use plants in native cultures), with particular emphasis on herbal medicine in Polynesia. This was followed by his current work with the small consulting company he founded, Isle Botanica, located in Honolulu. As a consultant, he has worked on numerous botanical projects in the Pacific Islands, including Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Yap, Chuuk, Guam, and the Northern Marianas. Dr. Whistler has published numerous scientific articles about plants, as well as ten books, including Tropical Ornamentals: a Guide (2000, published by Timber Press), Plants in Samoan Culture (2001), Polynesian Herbal Medicine (1992), Tongan Herbal Medicine (1992), Samoan Herbal Medicine (1996), Flowers of the Pacific Island Seashore (1992), Rainforest trees of Samoa (2004), The Samoan Rainforest (2002) and Wayside Plants of the Islands (1995).

Dr. Whistler was a visiting Associate Professor of Biology at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji in 2007. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of Hawai'i Botany Department and with the Lyon Arboretum, and a research affiliate at the Bishop Museum Botany Department in Honolulu. Current projects include work on the flora of Samoa and Tonga and a book (expected 2008) on the ethnobotany plants of Polynesia.


Dr. Art Whistler
Adjunct Professor
Department of Botany
1979 PhD. Botany
University of Hawaii



Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 7 of 7
  • Item
    Permanent forest plot data from the National Park of American Samoa
    (Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Botany, 1995-12) Whistler, W Arthur
    The National Park of American Samoa comprises units on three islands, Tutuila, Ta'u, and Ofu. The basis for this project began in December of 1990 with field work for a botanical inventory of the vegetation and flora of the proposed National Park unit on the island of Ta'u, the culmination of which was subsequently published. A second phase of the work began in 1992 with field work for a similar survey on the island of Tutuila, which was also published. However, these surveys did not establish any permanent plots that could be sampled at a later date to determine vegetational and successional changes and trends over time. Consequently, in 1993 a new project was carried out on Tutuila and Ta'u to establish permanent forest plots. The survey established three permanent plots on Ta'u and five on Tutuila in areas of secondary and primary forest.
  • Item
    Botanical Inventory of the Proposed Tutuila and Ofu Units of the National Park of American Samoa
    (Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Botany, 1994-04) Whistler, W Arthur
    The park is important because of the native vegetation it contains. Some of the best lowland forest remaining in the archipelago is found on Tutuila. It occurs in two main areas, one within the park boundaries between Fagasa and Afono, the other on the northwest Tutuila coast between the villages of Fagamalo and Fagasa. The park is also important for floristic reasons. The native flora of the whole archipelago consists of about 540 species of flowering plants and 230 species of ferns and fern allies. Tutuila is home to 57% of the native flowering plants of the archipelago and 50% of the native fern and fern allies. The park itself contains 39% (209 species) and 35% (81 species), respectively.
  • Item
    Botanical inventory of the proposed Ta'u Unit of the National Park of American Samoa
    (Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Botany, 1992-02) Whistler, W Arthur
    Two or three decades ago, Samoa had the highest percentage of intact native vegetation of any Polynesian archipelago. This may still be true, but since then nearly all of the forests of the lowlands (up to ca. 400 m elevation) have been felled or burned for agriculture to keep up with the explosive population growth of the islands, or were decimated by commercial logging operations (particularly in Western Samoa). Nearly all that is left of native Samoan forest is in the montane regions, and even those are currently under siege. Because of this tragic loss of Samoan rain forest, the area of the park represents a significant remnant of native Samoan vegetation, and is important for the unique plant communities it contains. The park is also important because of its rich flora. Only a few of the native species are endemic to the island (less than six), but 329 native vascular plant species have been recorded there. Although only few of the species on Ta'u would end up on an endangered species list, the importance of preserving such a diverse assemblage of plants in their native habitat cannot be over-emphasized. Even with the protection afforded the area by its ranking as a national park, there are threats to the native vegetation and flora, the most serious of which come from human activities.
  • Item
    Vegetation of the Montane Region of Savai'i, Western Samoa
    (University of Hawaii Press, 1978-01) Whistler, W Arthur
    The natural vegetation of the volcanic region of Savai'i, Western Samoa, as surveyed on an expedition in 1975, is described. The natural vegetation of the highlands consists of cloud forest and smaller amounts of lavaflow scrub, scrub and herbaceous vegetation of cinder and ash deposits, and montane meadows. All but the latter were sampled for species composition and relative dominance of species. An annotated checklist of all flowering plant species collected or recorded on the expedition is included.
  • Item
    The Other Polynesian Gourd
    (University of Hawaii Press, 1990-04) Whistler, W Arthur
    A review of botanical specimens and ethnographic literature indicates that a small calabash used as a vessel for scented coconut oil in Polynesia before European contact belongs to Benin casa hispida (Thunb.) Cogn., the wax gourd, rather than to Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl., the bottle gourd. Current literature does not mention any use of the edible wax gourd fruit as a calabash. It was also determined that there is no verifiable record of the bottle gourd having been present in western Polynesia before 1965, suggesting that the known occurrence of this species in eastern Polynesia before European contact may be attributed to dispersal from South America rather than from the west as is commonly believed.
  • Item
    Vegetation of Samoa and Tonga
    (University of Hawai'i Press, 1992-04) Whistler, W Arthur
    Based on field studies and a previous review of the literature, 22 plant communities are recognized in the two adjacent South Pacific archipelagoes of Samoa and Tonga. Because of similarities of climate and flora, most of the communities are similar in the two archipelagoes; the major differences result from the coralline nature of most of Tonga and the volcanic nature of Samoa. The communities are briefly described, the dominant species are listed, and the variation between the two archipelagoes is noted.
  • Item
    Vegetation and Flora of the Aleipata Islands, Western Samoa
    (University of Hawai'i Press, 1983-07) Whistler, W Arthur
    The botany of four small, relatively undisturbed tuff cone islands off the east coast of Upolu, Western Samoa, is examined. During a series of visits to the islands, the vegetation was studied in nine sample plots, and a checklist of the 260 species comprising the flora was compiled. Six types of native vegetation are recognized, one of which (Diospyros coastal forest) appears to be unique to tuff cone islands. Casual observations were made on the avifauna and turtle species, and the ecological significance of the islands is discussed.