Hawaii is home of the world’s most active volcano, the crater of Kilauea on Mauna Loa. Sandy beaches, towering volcanoes, and lush valleys lure thousands of tourists each year to this tropical paradise.
Hawaii is the most ethnically and racially diverse state of any state in the union, a mix that includes Caucasians, Americans of Japanese descent, and Polynesians, among others. Native Hawaiians have held on to many of their customs and traditions despite the influx of non-natives over the years. Hawaii is the only state that has an official native language. Statehood had been proposed many times throughout Hawaii’s history, but it was not until 1959 that Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States.
The Hawaiian Islands are home to an array of native plant species that has attracted the attention of botanists, naturalists, horticulturists and world travelers ever since Europeans first visited the islands near the end of the 18th century. Not only is the native flora–combining endemic and indigenous species–unique in its richness, its study has been the source of highly significant insights into the very essence of isolated island floras including such evolutionary important questions as (very) long distance dispersal, the rate of evolution of an island’s biota, and the nature of adaptive radiation. Of intense interest is the ongoing study of the origin of the individual elements of the flora. Situated in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, over 4,000 km distant from the nearest continent, the question of origins has been a major driving force in addressing the broader issues. It is easy to see why the Hawaiian Islands have been described as a ‘natural laboratory’ of unsurpassed significance.