Okinawan Plants
Plants of Iriomote Island (subtropical area)

Heritiera littoralis
*This tree is over 400 years old and recognized as 
a national natural treasure. Heritiera littoralis
 has unique roots in the form of plates.

I visited Iriomote Island this summer (2004). Iriomote Island is one of the 
Okinawa islands of Japan. Okinawa islands are located in a subtropical 
area close to Taiwan. Okinawa islands are famous for the beautiful sea 
and coral reefs. People living on main lands of Japan visit there for 
vacations. Of all the Okinawa islands, Iriomote Island is a special region 
richly endowed with nature. There are many natural species that are 
endemic to this island.

Residental Area
Ficus microcarpa is native to the Okinawa islands. Okinawan people 
worshipped Ficus microcarpa as a sacred tree in olden times. They 
believed that this tree with aerial roots is a place where spirits (fairies) 
get together.
It is said that Hibiscus was brought from South China in olden times. 
Now Hibiscus trees are planted as gardening trees right throughout the 
Okinawan islands. Bougainvilleas and plumerias are also planted as 
gardening trees as is usual in tropical islands like Hawaii.

Ficus microcarpa

Casuarina equisetifolia was brought from Australia as a windbreaker
about 50 years ago. Ravenala madagascariensis, this Madagascarian
plant is often planted as an ornamental tree by the road.

Casuarina equisetifolia

It is not certain when Papaya (Carica papaya: native to Central 
America) was brought to Okinawa. Okinawan people eat its young fruits 
as a vegetable like the people of South East Asia. Citrus depressa is a 
small citrus that is native to Okinawa slands and Taiwan. People flavor 
foods with Citrus depressa or just drink its juice.

Carica papaya

Citrus depressa
Alpinia zerumbet leaf is often used for wrapping foods because it is 
germicidal. People also make an herbal tea from its leaves because it has 
a good fragrance. 

Alpinia zerumbet

berries of
Alpinia zerumbet
Uraria crinita's flower is quite showy like a lupin. Commelina diffusa is 
native to subtropical areas. It seems that this flower has three petals 
compared with the most common species Commelina communis.

Uraria crinita

Commelina diffusa

In the case of Japan, mangrove forests are seen only in the Okinawa 
islands. There are five native mangroves in Iriomote Island: Bruguiera
gymnorrhiza, Kandelia candel, Sonneratia alba, Rhizophora stylosa and 
Avicennia marina.

mangroves growing in a shallow place of the river

aerial roots of a mangrove

a flower of
Bruguiera gymnorrhiza

a flower of Rhizophora stylosa

Pandanus odoratissimus and Cycas revoluta are often found at the 
seaside in Okinawa islands. Birds and coconut crabs (Birgus ratro) eat 
berries of Pandanus odoratissimus. People do not eat them because they 
are not sweet. Cycas revoluta is a poisonous plant. However, people in 
olden times mashed its poisonous trunks, washed them and then ate the 
remaining starch.


Cycas revoluta
In shallow places of the sea, there are seaweed and coral. Zostera
marina is a food for dugong (seapig). The right below might be Halimeda
a calcareous seaweed.

Zostera marina

Halimeda species
Vitex ritundifolia and Ipomea pes-caprae cover the ground of the 
seaside in Okinawa islands.

Vitex ritundifolia

Ipomea pes-caprae
Crinum asiaticum and Messerschmidia argentea are found at the 
seaside. Crinum asiaticum seed can float on the water of the sea, then 
reaches other islands and germinate there.

Crinum asiaticum

Messerschmidia argentea
Scaevola sericea is found at the seaside. Its seeds similarly can be 
taken out to sea and reach other islands where they germinate. 
Satakentia liukiuensis is an endemic species of Iriomote and Ishigaki 

Scaevola sericea

Satakentia liukiuensis
Dianella ensifolia is found in grasslands near the seaside. It belongs to 
Liliaceae. It displays small, purplish pink flowers in summer and has hard 
leaves.The right below is the sight of the seaside in Iriomote Island.

Dianella ensifolia

seaside in Iriomote Island

Cyathea lepifera, this fern grows in forests of subtropical areas 
(including South China, Taiwan and Philippine). Epipremnum pinnatum 
(Araceae) is an evergreen vine. It is sometimes appreciated as an 
ornamental foliage plant.

Cyathea lepifera

Epipremnum pinnatum
Alocasia odora is a poisonous aroid. It is sometimes appreciated as an 
ornamental foliage plant. Dipteris conjugata, this fern grows on the 
riverside (humid place) in mountains.

Alocasia odora

Dipteris conjugata
Mussaende parviflora is an evergreen tree. It has yellow flowers with 
beautiful white leaves. Begonia fencis grows in the humid ares of 
forests. People eat its leaves as a vegetable.

Mussaende parviflora

Begonia fencis
Cerbera manghas is a very poisonous tree. People in olden times used 
its sap as a poison for animal hunting. Rohdodendron amanoi grows at 
the riverside or on the slopes of mountains. It is an endemic azalea of 
subtropical areas.

Cerbera manghas

Rohdodendron amanoi
Ficus variegata bears berries on its tree trunk. Fruit bats (Pteropus 
dasymallus yaeyamae) eat these berries. The right below is "MARYUDU
Fall" in Iriomote Island.

Ficus variegata

The following two species (Bredia hirsuta and Arundina bambusifolia)
are also indigenous to the mountains of Iriomote Island though I could not
take the photos there:

Bredia hirsuta

Arundina bambusifolia

Okinawan Plants Website
Wonder Garden
"Wonder Garden Island" is created by Mr. fern. He
lives in Okinawa Island, main island of Okinawa
Islands. He especially loves to grow ferns and cycads.
He introduces plants of Okinawa Island (subtropical
area) and tropical plants of other areas. (Japanese)
Okinawan orchis
This website introduces Amitostigma lepidum. 
Amitostigma lepidum (Japanese name = OKINAWA
CHIDORI) is a small orchid which is native to
southern Japan. Now there are quite many cultivars
of this species and they are appreciated by
enthusiats. (English/Japanese)

Insect and fish
Radena similis is indigenous to Okinawa Islands, Taiwan and Southeast 
Asia. Chysiptera cyanea is often found on coral reef of Okinawa islands.

Radena similis

Chysiptera cyanea

About Okinawa Islands
People of Okinawa islands have a different history from the people living 
on main land of Japan. Their language is regarded as a dialect of 
Japanese, however its pronunciation and vocabulary are quite different. 
Okinawa islands were an independent kingdom until the lord of the 
Satsuma area (Kagoshima Prefecture) invaded in 1609 (the early Edo 
Period). Since Okinawa islands are located midway between East Asia 
(China, Korea and Japan) and Southeast Asia, Okinawa kingdom (called 
Ryukyu kingdom at that time) prospered as a key junction of trade 
between both areas. Therefore, Okinawan people created their own 
culture, which in turn was influenced by both of these cultures. Their 
traditional costumes are different from Japanese kimonos and are very 
showy (a combination of vivid colors with tropical images). They put lion-
shaped ornaments on the roofs of their houses as to ward off evil. This 
tradition is influenced by the culture of South China. One of their 
traditional foods is called CHAMPLU which is a stir-fried food with mixed 
vegetables and meat. It is said that the origin of this word is Indonesian 
word and means "mix". Their traditional music is also different from 
Japanese traditional music. Its melody is similar to Indonesian music. 
Okinawan culture is thus very unique as a mixture of East and Southeast 

An old house in Iriomote Island

lion-shaped ornament on a roof
called SHIISAA

A doll in a
traditional costume
of Okinawa Islands

traditional pattern for
women's costume
of Okinawa Islands