Urban Ground Cover

This category contains 10 posts

Pili Grass

Scientific Name:  Heterogpogon contortus

Hawaiian name: Pili, Lule

This plant was the Hawaiians’ choice grass to be used for thatching. The common use of this plant helped  Hawaiian houses earn the title of “grass shacks” The Hawaiians also used this plant for dye and as flooring pad. This grass is used to restore the United States Great Plains’ grasslands and prairies.( Image by Forest and Starr)



Scientific Name: sida fallax

Hawaiian Name: Ilima

Ilima is a common plant that thrives in sunny and hot conditions. This plant was prized for it’s beautiful flowers that were strung into delicate leis. This is the offical flower for Oahu. However, many people don’t know that this flower is actually edible and can be eaten in salads.


* Endangered

Scientific name: Sesbania Tomentosa

Hawaiian name Ohai

This endangered plant has soft silverly leaves because of the thousands of tiny hairs that cover this plant. These hairs help protect the plant from the heat and help trap tiny particles of moisture. The Ohai has the ability to gather nitrogen from the air and defuses it in the soil creating a organic fertilizer for nearby soil. The salmon colored flower is fragrant and was prized for lei making.


Scientific Name: Vitex rotundifolia

Hawaiian Name: Hinahina, pohinahina, kolokolo, kahakai

The edible leaves were used to treat stomach aches and head aches.  This is a very common landscaping plant due to it’s pretty purple flowers and sage like fragrance. On beaches it is planted in the sand to prevent erosion.  An interesting note is that this plant has become an invasive species on the eastern Coast of US.

Sea Purslane

Scientific name: Sesuvium portulacastrum

Hawaiian name: Akulikuli

This plant’s leaves are salty and slightly bitter so they offer a nice accent  similar to a pickle. Akulikuli plants do a great job of absorbing contaminated water and  helps reduce phosphates nitrogen and potassium in contaminated water. This was recently grown in the Ala Wai canal to reduce toxic metals and pollutants (Photo by Forest and Starr Kim)

Javanese flatsedge

Scientific name: Cyperus Javanicus

Hawaiian Name: Ahu’awa

The long stocks of this sedge were pounded down into fiber and used for cordage. This crushed stock were also used to strain the pulp out of Awa root drink.  This plant  grows often in wetlands but also grows well in dry areas and it’s fibrous roots do a good job of controlling erosion.

Hard-stem lovegrass

Scientific name

Eragrostis variabilis

Hawaiian name: Kalamalo, Kawelu, Emoloa

Although this grass looks ubiquitous it is actually a native grass that works well for erosion control and ecosystem restoration. The Hawaiians occasionally used this grass for thatching. This plant also provides a breeding habitat for the endangered laysan duck and laysan finches. (Image by Forest and Starr)


Scientific name: Chamaesyce celastroides

Hawaiian name: Ekoko, Akoko

The Hawaiians used the milky sap of this plant as one of the ingredients used to paint canoe hulls.  It’s kind of cool for landscaping because this plant naturally forms a “table top” making it appear as if it is constantly well trimmed. The name is also derived from the word blood because damaged leaves turn blood red as they wilt.

Beach Pea

Scientific name: Vigna Marina

Hawaiian names: Nanea, ʻŌkolemakili, Pūlihilihi

This vine forms and attractive ground cover and produces bright yellow flowers. It grows very quickly and prefers shade while providing solid erosion prevention making this great plant for landscaping ground cover. Strangely enough, the Hawaiian translation of okolemakili is cracked buttocks.( Image by Forest and Starr)

Sword Fern

Scientific name:Nephrolepis Cordifolia

Hawaiian name: Kupukupu fern

This native fern grows quickly, keeps the weeds out  and is drought resistant, so it’s great for landscaping. This plant is used in leis and in hula alters.  Unfortunately there are 3  similar non native ferns  that fall in the same nephrolepis category. These invasive ferns are germinating with the native ferns and altering the genetics of the fern into hybrid fern.  ( Image by Forest and Starr Kim)