Identifying native plant seedlings

It is difficult enough to try and identify the hundreds of different plant species native to Hawai’i. Keying out the different characteristics takes a lot of work and patience. Identifying native seedlings adds more challenges for many of them look different than mature plants. This is especially important in restoration work; many native seedlings can be accidentally pulled up because they aren’t what people expect to see. We’ll try to look at these issues in this post…

seedling 1Take for example this guy… any guesses to what this plant is? It is still a quite common plant seen on many trails here on O’ahu.

It is a Kawa’u seedling (Ilex anomala). I don’t know about you but the leave margins with their serrated edges are way different that what you would expect to see on a mature individual. The fairly distinctive venation on mature leaves is also not as conspicuous on the seedling.

seedling 2How about this guy? This tree is common in many wet forests here on O’ahu. It can be easily identified from fairly far away because of the distinctive action its leaves do.

This is an olapa seedling (Cheirodendron trigynum). The first few leaves are simple, whereas the adult plants typically have trifoliate-compound leaves with 3-5 leaflets.

The next two plants I’ll describe together because as adults the trees are confused for each other quite often.

seedling 3

seedling 4But as you can see, the seedlings look very different from one another. The top seedling is a kopiko (Psychotria mariniana) and the bottom seedling is an ‘ahakea (Bobea elatior). The Bobea seedling has leaves that, for the most part, look like the leaves on an adult plant. They seemed to be much hairer than mature leaves though.

It’s tough identifying these native plant seedlings. But in the forest, it is great to see them popping up on their own. I hope this helps, especially if you stumble upon fields and fields of them. That’s my dream anyway…

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