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Our library boasts several books about gardens and flowers in Hawaii. That is hardly surprising. As you step off the plane in Honolulu young women offer you a lei and every dish at the hotel is garnished with an orchid. Hawaii is heaven for gardeners. The municipal botanical garden is noted for its orchids and they have become the signature flower of the islands. Of course they must be native.

I am sorry to disappoint you but it happens that the orchids are not native at all. (How did we get back to orchids? I wrote about them last time) Complex interaction between the Americas, the Orient and the Southern Hemisphere has left Hawaii in the middle with flora and fauna from the whole world. For tiny islands which are merely the tips of old volcanoes, they carry the most amazing cargo of imported plant life imaginable. Much of it only happened within the past 150 years.

Back in 1928, Marie Neal took note of this and prepared In Honolulu Gardens with Berta Metzger for the Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Neal and Metzger essentially compiled a set of descriptions of the commonest Hawaiian plants, using the standard botanical classification to group like plant with like. Native Tree Ferns, (Cibotium chammissoi), are perhaps some of the most widely distributed plants in the islands, followed by Sword Fern, (Nephrolepsis exaltata). Fern has a world wide presence, as long as there are moisture and shade.

Glorious exotics such as ginger and the bromeliads came from India and Brazil respectively. The orchids primarily came from Malaysia and the Philippines, though there are hundreds from South America too.

Marie Neal illustrated the book with her own line drawings from living plants. The drawings are delicate and exact, an ideal accompaniment to a recital of this sort.

By contrast, another book in our possession is Flowers of Hawaii, a brief work written by Mary Dillingham Frear and illustrated with coloured plates by Olive Gale McLean. They set out to do something different, to take a small number of flowers and create gorgeous pictures of them occupying a full page. This book appeared in 1938.

Mary Frear’s grandmother went to Hawaii in the 1850s and talked of brown, barren hillsides in Oahu. Some of this was the result of unchecked cattle grazing but part was due to a narrow set of native plants. Gradually the foreign plants were imported and produced the lush green landscape we associate with the islands.

The Royal Palm, (Delonix regia in the 1930s, now Roystonea regia) is a case in point. The tutor to the Hawaiian princes brought it back with him in 1850 after a trip to the West Indies. Hibiscus, almost ubiquitous, arrived from China very early. Bougainvillea, another frequent favourite, came from Brazil.

In this way Hawaii is little different from Europe and the United States, both of which have been overtaken by imported species now fully acclimatized.