Dispatches from Hawai’i: Hawai’i’s environmental history, connections to the Pacific Northwest, and magic mushrooms.

This is the fourth article in a 4-part series on the fungi of Hawai’i from a Pacific Northwest perspective.  This article touches on the historical links between Hawai’i and the Pacific Northwest, the environmental history of Hawai’i, and briefly, hallucinogenic fungi.

Hawai’i’s link to the Pacific Northwest begins with the Western explorers of the 18th Century.  On Captain James Cook’s third expedition in 1778, he and his crew became the first documented Europeans to visit the islands.  That same year he would visit the coast of the Pacific Northwest, naming Cape Foulweather in Oregon before heading north and mapping the coastline between Nootka Sound and the Bering Straight.  After being killed in Hawai’i the following year, one of Cook’s crewmembers, George Vancouver, would revisit the islands and Pacific Northwest on his own expedition from 1791-1795. 

Unlike Cook who missed the Straight of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver entered and mapped the Puget Sound while giving Western names to the landmarks of the region: Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Puget Sound itself.  Vancouver’s Scottish surgeon and naturalist, Archibald Menzies, described many species from the expedition, including Pseudotsuga menziesii, the iconic tree of the Pacific Northwest: Douglas fir.


Looking south to Mauna Kea (left, “White Mountain”) and Mauna Loa (right, “Long Mountain”).

Later, while on Hawai’i Island, Menzies became the first known European to summit Mauna Loa, an active volcano 13,679 ft. high.  He described several species of plants, and his name graces the Hawaiian Vetch, Vicia menziesii, now a critically endangered plant and the first Hawaiian plant to be placed on the endangered species list.


Although not closely related, the nearest lookalike to a chanterelle in Hawai’i is Gloeocantharellus pallidus.  It is reported as a poor edible and I have not eaten it.


It would be another 30 years before the next recorded ascent of Mauna Loa by a European, David Douglas. Another Scottish naturalist, Douglas described species from Hawai’i, and many more from the Pacific Northwest. His memorial on the island of Hawai’i (where he met an untimely death) is planted with Douglas fir trees (yes, I have checked.  No, they are not producing chanterelles).


Wild cattle remain to this day in remote areas of Hawai’i Island.  Removal is being attempted in some areas by trapping and/or hunting.



Over 750,000 acres of Hawai’i Island are pastures for grazing animals, a number that has fallen from over 1.1 million acres since 1980.


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Looking south to Hualalai from leeward Kohala Mountain, former pastureland is being planted with native trees.  The mature vegetation to the right of the frame survived because it is growing in a rocky gulch inaccessible to cattle.


Vancouver’s return to Hawai’i with gifts of cattle in 1793 and 1794 had great implications for the Hawaiian environment.  After forbidding their slaughter so they could reproduce, their population grew to enormous numbers, playing a large role in degrading native landscapes. Wild cattle remain to this day, along with goats, European pigs (introduced by Cook and later visitors), sheep, and other ungulates which have all had negative effects on native Hawaiian ecosystems.


Many introduced fungi came to Hawai’i with the introduction of ungulates.  This beautiful coprinoid was found in cow dung.


Pigs are common in a variety of habitats throughout the islands and are sought out by hunters.



Pigs are often cited as detrimental to native forests by the knocking over and eating of tree ferns and spreading of invasive species such as Banana Poka and Guava.



Fences are often erected in remote areas and around property lines to avoid damage from pigs and other ungulates.


Beyond the introduction of hoofed animals, the visitation and utilization of the Hawaiian Islands led to other environmental and societal consequences: population collapse, change in social structure, extensive logging of sandalwood for trade and other trees for firewood and fuel for the increasing number of whaling and trading ships visiting the islands. Later, extensive tracts of lands were cleared for ranching and sugar production; the sugar era in Hawai’i is now over and some of that land has been planted with Eucalyptus trees.


Coastal Sandalwood (Santalum ellipticum) with fruit.



A Eucalyptus plantation with Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) understory.


Some arid areas of leeward Kohala Mountain that have been intensely grazed by cattle and goats for hundreds of years are devoid of vegetation. Feral goats remain.


Sediment buildup in Pelekane Bay.  A contributing factor is a lack of vegetation to control erosion due to overgrazing by feral goats.

After Western contact, Hawaiians began work on commercial ships and found themselves traveling the world.  Friday Harbor, Owyhee Lake and River, and possibly the Washington town of Kalama are named after Hawaiians who lived in the Northwest throughout the 19th Century.

So what’s the fungal connection?  The exchange of people, goods, plants, and animals certainly increased the amount of fungi found in the islands; the most conspicuous fungi in Hawai’i, including most of its edibles and all its poisonous and hallucinogenic fungi are thought to come from outside the islands.


Hallucinogenic Panaeolus sp. fruiting from dung.


Hallucinogenic Panaeolus sp.

Beyond cultivated “magic” mushrooms, Hawai’i has 3-5 hallucinogenic species that all look very similar to the blue-staining Panaeolus cyanescens (=Copelandia cyanescens) and grow in pastures associated with dung. Anecdotally, most people are aware that hallucinogenic mushrooms grow in pastures and some seek them out.  Amanita muscaria is also present, but is currently restricted to Kaua’i.


In the world of fungi there are always surprises, and I was lucky enough to be greeted by morels this spring and see some of the island’s interesting stinkhorns.  Happy mushrooming and hope you enjoyed the series!


My first fresh morels in the islands.


Phallus sp. (probably P. cinnabarinus)


Phallus sp. (probably P. atrovolvatus)

Jeff Stallman is a super picky PSMS member since 2009 and former Board Member. He has been exploring the fungi of Hawai’i since moving to the big island in 2014, and will be sharing his experiences with us. His series will be published the second Sunday of each month.


Allen, J. W. and M. D. Merlin. 1989. Copelandia and Other Psychoactive Fungi in Hawaii. Newsletter Hawaiian Society Botanical vol. 28(2):27-30.

Culliney, John L. Islands in a Far Sea: The Fate of Nature in Hawai’i. Honolulu: U of Hawai’i, 2006. Print.

Hemmes, Don E., and Dennis E. Desjardin. Mushrooms of Hawai’i: An Identification Guide. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2002. Print.

Hemmes, Don E., and Dennis E. Desjardin. “Stinkhorns of the Hawaiian Islands.” Fungi (Volume 2:3 Summer 2009): 8-10. Web

Ho, James G. Y. Untold Fragments of Hawaii’s History. Hawaii: Hawaiian Chinese Multicultural Museum & Archives, 2003. Print.

Nisbet, Jack. The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch, 2009. Print.

Nisbet, Jack. David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work: An Illustrated Exploration across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch, 2012. Print.

Ziegler, Alan C. Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution. Honolulu: U of Hawai’i, 2002. Print.