Annotated Checklist of Cultivated Plants of Hawai‘i
Clyde T. Imada, George W. Staples, and Derral R. Herbst

Common Names

Common names are a powerful means for communicating the identity of plants, and they often immediately convey some distinguishing aspect of the plant, such as its color, shape, size, scent, place of origin, or habitat. Common names, however, can become a source of confusion if their limitations are not understood. Their application is usually geographically restricted, and a name used in one area may refer to a completely different plant in another. For example, “mock orange” on the U.S. mainland refers to species in the genus Philadelphus of the hydrangea family; in Hawai‘i, it usually refers to a common hedge plant in the citrus family, Murraya paniculata. In such instances, reference to a stable scientific name will clarify the situation.

Common names can also imply relationships that are misleading. Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) is not a grass, nor asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus) a fern; both are in the lily family. Hilo holly (Ardisia crenata) is neither related to holly nor is it native to Hilo; custard apple (Annona reticulata), mountain apple (Syzygium malaccense), and star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito) are all in different families and none is related to the familiar apple of the rose family.

Wherever possible, we have adopted common names historically used in Hawai‘i, with Neal (1965) as the primary reference. Secondary sources used included Clay & Hubbard (1977a, 1977b), Kuck & Tongg (1955), and Wagner et al. (1990). Hawaiian plant names were adopted from the Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui & Elbert 1986).

Common names are presented for a number of cultural groups living in Hawai‘i. English common names are given first, followed alphabetically by vernacular names in other languages spoken in Hawai‘i, including Chinese (Cantonese), Filipino (Ilocano), Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Samoan, Thai, Tongan, and Vietnamese. We make no attempt to recommend usage of one common name over another, but any historically preferred local names within each language group are mentioned first; otherwise, they are listed alphabetically. Most of the Asian and Pacific vernacular names included refer to food plants grown by various local ethnic cultures.

For species not included in Neal’s book, Hortus Third (L. H. Bailey Hortorium 1976) was the primary reference for common names. Books proving useful for specific plant groups or geographic areas include An Enumeration of Philippine Flowering Plants (Merrill 1923–26, for Filipino common names) and A Popular Guide to Chinese Vegetables (Dahlen & Phillipps 1983). {Note: Useful guides for vernacular names in other languages are being sought}

J. T. Kartesz and J. W. Thieret (1991), in an attempt to standardize English-language common names, have developed guidelines for their formation (including hyphenation and capitalization), spelling, usage, and application. We support their worthwhile effort toward standardization and have attempted to adhere to these guidelines in our use of common names.

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