The Arid Lowland Vegetation of the Hawaiian Islands (1778-1825) as Recorded by the Early European Voyagers

Singh, Jagjit
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
In this paper an attempt will be made to demonstrate principally on the basis of selected historical evidence, that such natural vegetation as might have existed in the arid lowlands of Kona, Lahaina, Honolulu and Waimea on Kauai, had been extensively modified by the native Hawaiians prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in 1778. Reliance will be placed on historical sources to show that at the time of first foreign contact with the Hawaiian islands that extensive areas within the arid lowlands had been cultivated with such food crops as breadfruit, bananas, taro and yams. It would further be argued that these various forms of vegetation, around which a large part of traditional Hawaiian subsistence agriculture revolved, were in turn gradually destroyed, by introduced animals and plants, by erosion resulting from log hauling, by lava flows, by substitution of higher revenue crops, by the movement of population from rural areas to urban areas and last but not least by the demise of the native Hawaiian population. Both from library sources and from observational field work done for this paper some description will also be offered of the nature of the vegetation which presently characterizes the areas under discussion. The ‘arid lowland' for the purpose of this research may be described in the words of William Hillebrand as the open country which is rainless during the greater part of the year; and today has a few native species but great quantities of introduced plants such as algaroba and haole koa. This is a dry and dusty region and generally lies on the leeward sides of the islands from sea level to about 2,000 feet.
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