Notes on Tropical Plants
This site contains some information on tropical plants — particularly
the plants we use for food — and what makes them different from the
plants that people are used to seeing in colder, temperate climates
like continental North America. These pages were written to
support students using the Kahihi webquests and
will hopefully be of general interest.
Climate conditions range along a continuous spectrum, and there is no
absolute division between temperate zones and “the tropics,” but it is
still useful to think about some of the differences between regions
with agreeable weather year-round and those with seasonal extremes.
First off, here’s a list of tropical and
temperate foodplants, so you can see some of the plants which are
often grown in the different regions. Just as there is no firm
dividing line between tropical and temperate zones, these two groups
aren’t really as sharply divided as the list suggests. Many
plants can be grown in more than one region. You’re more likely
to find a “temperate” crop being grown in the tropics than the other
way around, because some of the tropical crops don’t survive in cold
A good example of this is the group of plants known as the monocots, which includes most of the
world’s staple crops. You might have noticed on the list of
plants that the temperate monocot crops are mostly grains, while the
tropics has much greater monocot
The list also shows how plants are propagated. People familiar
grain-based agricultural traditions of seed-planting are often
to find that there are other “cultures”
of growing plants. I have pulled together some information
on growing Hawaiian plants, which
illustrates the diversity of techniques, and particularly the
vegetative propagation in the tropical Pacific.
Although the diversity of Pacific crops has been overlooked by the
continental nutritionists who put together the USDA Food Pyramid, there
is an alternative food pyramid
which works much better for Hawai‘i and the Pacific.
I hope you find these pages useful! Please contact me if you think there
is anything I should change or add.
updated 6 December 2010
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