Flowers and fish

First we have some photos from a visit to the University of Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum, not far from downtown Honolulu. I can’t identify the plants, but some are native and some are not. Readers are invited to weigh in.

First, the source of Hawaiian plants. It wasn’t until about 20 years ago that I learned that most endemic plants on oceanic islands didn’t get there by floating as Darwin hypothesized, but by being carried in bird poop or adhering to bird bodies:

Two views of the Arboretum:

Look at these buttress roots!

Bromeliads. The red centers must be there to attract insects, but for what? To drown in the pool of water in the center? Does that provide nourishment for the plant?

Yesterday was my first beach trip, to the nearby Hanauma Bay, a popular site not far from Honolulu. It’s a quiet bay, filled with coral, formed when a volcanic crater later became attached to the sea. It’s very popular, but we got there early and not many people were snorkeling. And the fish were wonderful: I love snorkeling because you’re entering an alien world filled with great beauty.

Here’s the bay from above: the dark patches are coral, filled with fish.

Professor Ceiling Cat swimming out to the reefs. I’m the one swimming with the snorkel and flipper splashes:

If you want a tropical-fish experience, and don’t mind some crowds, this is a good and safe place to swim. Get there early (you have to watch a 15-minute movie on protecting the reefs and swimming safety); you can rent the gear for $20.

I don’t have an underwater camera but I’ll steal from the web three lovely fish I saw:

The Christmas Wrasse (Thalassoma trilobatum):

The bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus sordidus), which scrapes algae off the corals. It’s big, too!

Picture from Wikipedia

And everybody’s favorite Hawaiian fish, the reef triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus), famous for its long Hawaiian name, humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, which apparently means “triggerfish with a snout like a pig.” But it’s a lovely thing and happens to be Hawaii’s State Fish. Here’s one from Wikipedia that was photographed in Hanauma Bay:

This fish, with 22 letters in its name, is not the longest Hawaiian fish name, however. The honor belongs to the “Lauwiliwilinukunukuʻoiʻoi”, which I like because it has a bit of Yiddish at the end! It’s the longnose butterflyfish, Forcipiger flavissimuswhich looks like this:

The “humu” features in one of the kitschy Hawaiian songs that has become popular, “My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaiʻi”, written by Tommy Harrison, Bill Cogswell, and Johnny Noble in 1933. Here it is in two versions. The humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa is first mentioned at 1:04:

The Hawaiian words:

Two historic locations on the Big Island of Hawaii are mentioned in the title and lyrics. Kealakekua, where the Fourth of July canoe races took place, is where English explorer James Cook was killed in 1779. The beach at Hōnaunau is now the site of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, the best known and best preserved ancient City of Refuge.

The Hawaiian phrase in the line “I want to be with all the kanes and wahines that I used to know” means “ladies and gentlemen” (literally “men and women”). The line, “Where the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa go swimming by,” refers to the tiny reef triggerfish, Hawaii’s state fish, by its long Hawaiian name. Poi is a Hawaiian food staple, the “two-fingered poi” in the lyrics referring to a medium thickness of poi that requires two fingers to scoop.

There is one full line in Hawaiian, “Komo mai no kāua i ka hale welakahao,” which literally translates to, “Come into our house while the iron’s hot.” Dolly Parton, in her televised live performance of the song in 1987, shouts out after the line is sung that it means, “Come to my house, we’re gonna party!”

This one’s from the 1934 movie short “Mirrors”,  with Freddie Rich and His Orchestra, featuring Vera Van and the Eton Boys.

More food and fun to come.

Addendum: As you may have guessed, Hawaiian names are often long, and here’s the woman with the longest name on record: Janice “Lokelani” Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele.  For a while the state shortened her name on her driver’s license and omitted the apostrophe:

The old license was also missing an okina, which as the University of Hawaii says is a way to show “a glottal stop, similar to the sound between the syllables of ‘oh-oh.’ ” (We should note that an okina is often used the state’s name — as in, Hawai’i.)

Under the new policy, the state’s cards will have room for 40 characters in “first and last names and 35 characters for middle names,” the AP reports.

And here’s a video of Ms. K. with her full-name driver’s license. Note how the news anchor pronounces the name correctly at the beginning. It’s a jawbreaker!




  1. Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    What GORGEOUS flowers! I do not think that insects drowned in bromeliads are required by the plant – I think that is just because insects happen to fall in. I know they like to be kept we in the centre in part of the year. I have an Aechmea fasciata in our library… That bromeliad’s ancestor must have come from South/Central America.

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      kept wet! duh… sorry…

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      But I’m wondering why the plant produces an attractive red color right around the water pool. I have a feeling it’s to attract insects. But if that’s true, I don’t know why. Plant biologist readers must know.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I want

  3. Joe Dickinson
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I have also seen the “reef triggerfish” called the “Picasso triggerfish”, which seems pretty apt to me, like a generic fish that has been reimagined by Picasso.

  4. Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful plants and fish!

  5. Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    The plants can be identified by various online field guides. Here is one that relies on ‘field’ markers like flower color, or presence of fruit or cones:
    The first flowers I identified immediately as the Bengal trumpet, Thunbergia grandiflora. It can be white –> violet, or in between.

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I think none of the big flowers pictured are native, but the birds-nest fern (Plant #2) could be the native species, and I don’t recognize the fruit that looks like a corn-on-the-cob or the dark purple flower head in the picture just above it, so those could be native.

      Jerry, you asked about the purpose of the red color in bromeliads. Bromeliads do get nutrients from the stuff that dies in the water they hold, and some tepui bromeliads (genus Brocchinia) actually have adaptations for insectivroy and resemble pitcher plants, but the red in the bromeliads of your photo is most likely a signal to attract pollinators(often hummingbirds)to the flowers. You can see in the picture that the young, nonflowering rosettes don’t have the red color, even though those would be the ones that need the most nutrients.

      Here’s a link to the insectivorous bromeliads:

      • Diane G
        Posted January 8, 2019 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Great link Lou, thanks!

        I think I know what the author means by this, but would you mind elaborating on it a bit?

        “Brocchinia serves as a reminder to researchers blind to organismal study. We shouldn’t have to study ecology at the expense of individual organisms. There is plenty to learn from both avenues of research.”

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good website.
      The giant burgundy flower is
      Tapeinochilos ananassae – Indonesian Wax Ginger.

  6. Caracal
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    One tip for Hanauma Bay, get there before 7 and it’s free (both parking and the entrance fee). I was there yesterday (I made a donation instead of the entrance fee) The sunrise is spectacular.

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      You mean you can get onto the beach free and without watching the movie if you arrive before 7? I’d like to go snorkeling again soon. And where do you put the donation?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 8, 2019 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        I think you’ll find it a bit dark for swimming that early – twilight begins around 6.15am & true sunrise isn’t until 7.11am.

        Looking at trip advisor [TA]: It’s free entry from 6am [when the gates/parking open] ’til 7am [when the ticket place opens]

        BUT the shop on the beach offering snorkel kit seemingly** isn’t open at 6am, comments on TA give various shop opening times between 6am & 8am. Day rental from “Snorkel Bobs” might be an option, but they don’t open until 8am. Bay kit pricing is expensive [it seems to me] with standard snorkel $20 & premium $40 Plus locker $10 Plus parking $7.50 so a weekly rental from Bob’s might be a good move if you visit the bay enough.

        There is a donation box mentioned on TA – logically it must be anywhere before you reach the lockers where there’s staff – must be at the ticket booth or rental shop is my guess.

        ** TA info can be way off & it gets old quickly.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 8, 2019 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          I thought it was a bad idea to go into the ocean at dusk and dawn because that’s when sharks are most active. Sure, they may not be near reefs but still….sharks.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted January 8, 2019 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            Good point. Also the hills to the left of the bay is where the sun rises so down on the beach might well be gloomy until 7.30am AND I would want the bay lifeguard stations to be peopled & capable of seeing me & Mrs. Shark in the water. AND wear a life vest Jerry! [Jewish Mum speaks] 🙂

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

              Hang on. If you’re snorkelling, I can’t think of any bigger impediment than a life vest.

              (My comment based on snorkelling in the lagoon in Rarotonga. Hanauma Bay may be different).


              • Michael Fisher
                Posted January 8, 2019 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

                I mean a hi-vis snorkel vest actually not “life vest”. The idea with the vest is if you feel yourself getting muscle tired you can blow it up with your mouth & bob around until you’re refreshed. Essential IMO beyond the reef ie inside the bottom of this yellow box:

                Here’s a vest:

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 9, 2019 at 2:13 am | Permalink

                Ah, OK, that vest makes sense. I wasn’t aware of that variant, in fact I haven’t seen one, I was thinking of the one commonly used on boats.


              • rickflick
                Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                These must be pretty rare. I don’t remember seeing them either. Nice, though, especially for kids and novices.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 8, 2019 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

            I think the gloomy 7 AM opening must be to allow unaware tourists in to keep the local sharks fed and happy. They won’t bother anyone the rest of the day. 😎

          • Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            I was thinking the same thing.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          Which raises the obvious question, why not buy your own mask and snorkel? (And not at a dive shop by the beach, unless you want to pay premium prices!) I’ve found that finding a mask that fits my face is the critical thing – once I’ve done that, I want to keep it.


      • Caracal
        Posted January 8, 2019 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        On my way out, I bought some tee shirts an a bag, I added a donation at that time. Also, I forgot to add, they are closed on Tuesdays.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I went to the Lyon Arboretum when I was on Oahu as well. It was raining the whole time but I was happy to see all the varieties of philodendron, even though Hawaiians complain about them all the time.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    “Little Grass Shack” is a tune I associate with Arthur Godfrey — a fella whose tv show I have to strain my childhood memories to recall.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 9, 2019 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      I always find the connections between Hawai’ian and Maori languages interesting, though Hawai’ian has letters Maori doesn’t. Kane and wahine for man and woman is tane and wahine in Maori. I notice mai for my is the same in both languages too.

  9. rickflick
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Ms K. has a great win getting the government to print her full name. the TV presenter did a wonderful job pronouncing it.
    I was in Hawaii for 10 days some years ago and was staying in a suburb of Honolulu. I found some difficulty getting around because the street names were very hard for me to pronounce, hear, or read. It was as if I had become dyslexic. I comforted myself to think the problem would resolve itself if I just stayed a few weeks more. Unfortunately, my vacation ended before I’d gained any fluency.

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      My relation married a Cypriot man with much shorter family name than this but nevertheless everyone finds it too long. A real estate sale had to be postponed once because one letter in her name was mistaken in one of the papers.

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Since you mention it – driver’s license in Hawaii, I would guess they have updated considerably since I was there. Back in 1983 you had to take a driver’s test, just like a new 16 year old does to drive. I would have been 33 at the time with a California license but it means nothing. Exactly why this was the law back then, I never really knew. The guys giving the driving test all wore Hawaiian shirts. I could only guess it was a way to employ more people.

    It was the only state I lived in that required this. Most all the others required you take their written test only.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      I could tell that name on the driver’s license was wrong. It ends in a consonant. So far as I’m aware, no Polynesian word ever does that.

      And also the double ‘e’ looks wrong – I guess that’s where they omitted the apostrophe (or whatever it’s called)?

      It is certainly a tongue-twister, to rank up there with Eyjafjallajokul

      Incidentally, my perfectly ordinary name (including middle name) seems to be longer than average. I take perverse pleasure in filling in meaningless bureaucracy like arrival and departure cards that give a series of little boxes for each letter and running off the right-hand end of the paper. 8-]


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 8, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        I often run out of room with my name too.

  11. Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    The yellow romboid fish cannot be real, must be fake news :-).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      They’re pointing down to the left. The yellow bit is largely fin. The black spot top right is probably a decoy marking.

      Butterfly fish come in thousands of different patterns – which raises the question, how and why? Since they all occupy (presumably) the same ecological niche, how did speciation come about?


  12. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Off topic:

    If anyone knows the most recent “pet peeve words”, please drop a line… uh-oh … that itself might be s pet peeve….

    back to our regular program ….

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Bloody triggerfish. The lagoon in Rarotonga is full of them. They’re not normally a problem, in fact they’re quite entertaining, except for a couple of weeks at some particular time of year (I forget when), presumably the mating season. They (I presume the males) get insanely territorial and defend their square yard of sand fanatically. You feel a sudden bump on your leg and find a little tiny bleeding bite where a 4″ triggerfish has attacked. After this has happened half a dozen times it gets a bit intimidating.

    Much more pleasant, on a recent trip, was being nibbled by a cleaner wrasse when I happened to stop in its ‘cleaning station’.


  14. AScientistInHawaii
    Posted January 8, 2019 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne,

    If you’re near the University of Hawaii Manoa, down off University Ave. across from the “Study Hall” bar, there is a side street named Coyne Street. On it there is an interesting ice cream place called Cream N’ Roll, that does ice cream a little differently. It’s also a block over from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I heard this from a UH grad student today and I am quite curious to see Coyne Street and find out whom it was named after.
      What’s the ice cream place do “differently”?


  15. Posted January 9, 2019 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    Visions of Paradise…

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes! And whoa!

      It reminds me of my little 3D geometry quiz/joke. It has two parts:
      (A) To the nearest percent, what percentage of the earth’s surface lies between 30 degrees North latitude and 30 South?
      (B) Why do I live on the wrong half?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 9, 2019 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        That’s the first opportunity I’ve had since leaving school of employing Archimedes’ Hatbox Theorem! 45 years.

        Beautiful theorem though.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted January 9, 2019 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          Well that was interesting!… what is this post about again? Huh. Bonus!

      • Diane G
        Posted January 9, 2019 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Well, just be patient. Even if you don’t go to the tropics, the tropics are coming to you.

      • Posted January 10, 2019 at 3:35 am | Permalink

        I was simply commenting on the gorgeous and foreign (to me) flora and fauna. I specifically said “visions” instead of “sights”, for obvious reasons.

  16. Andrea Kenner
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    What a delightful post! Thank you!

  17. Posted January 9, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    The more I see photos of fish the more I realize that cladism is the way to go – the polyphyletic nature of their history gets clearer! 😉

    Aesthetically – wow, what difference!

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