Urban Shrubs

This category contains 10 posts

Hawaiian Rockwort

Scientific Name: Nototrichium sandwicense

Hawaiian Name: Kului

This native plant has silvery leaves and is very popular among landscapers. This plant is drought resistant so it’s good for those looking to create a xeriscaping garden. The Hawaiians packed the flowers and wood of this plant in bamboo and would toss it over a cliff to create something similar to a firework display.



*Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Cordyline terminalis

Hawaiian Names: Ki, Ti

This plant was another introduction by the Hawaiians  to  Hawaii.  They used the Ti plant had a wide range of uses, ranging from, wrappings for food, thatching, medical purposes,  plates, and clothes.  The plant also was considered sacred to the god of agriculture ( Lono) and the godess of hula (Laka). An incredible demonstration of the use as a rain coat can be found here. 

Forest gardenia

* Endangered

Scientific Name: Gardenia Brighamii

Hawaiian Name: Nanu, Na u

This is another popular easy to grow landscaping plant.  However, it has become extremely difficult to find in the wild and has been listed on the federally endangered list.  The Hawaiians used the pulp of this flower for a rich yellow dye reserved for chiefs.

Hawaiian Cotton

* At Risk

Scientific Name: Gossypium Tomentosum

Hawaiian Name: Ma’o Huluhulu

These shrubs have large hibiscus like flowers, but produce relatively short cotton fibers that were not useful for cordage or cooking. However the hairs were used for tinder and used similarly to a cotton swab or Q tip. The plant is also resistant to many pests and disease of commercial cotton and has been cross bread with commercial types  to create disease resistant hybrids( Image by Forest and Starr Kim)

Hawaiian Rose

Scientific name: Ostemoeles Anthyllidifolia 

Hawaiian name: Ulei, Eluehe

This is an excellent xeroscape plant and a common problem is overwatering. The wood is extremely flexible and springy and was used for spears, and creating hoops. A little known fact is that Hawaiians used bows and arrows to hunt birds and rats. This springy wood was  a choice selection for both the Hawaiians’ bows and arrows.  The fruit is edible although it’s grainy and not very tasty.

Native Yellow Hibiscus

* Endangered

Scientific name: Hibiscus brackenridgei

Hawaiian name: Aloalo, Maʻo hau hele

This is the official Hibiscus flower of Hawaii. It’s fitting that this hibiscus is endangered when considering the vast number of endangered Native Hawaiian  plants.  The flowers’ pedals and stigma are yellow with either a solid or splotchy  red center. This plant should not be confused with the much more common chinese hibiscus.

False Ohelo

Scientific name: Wikstroemia uva-ursi

Hawaiian name: Akia, Kauhi

There are 12 native varieties of this plant that originated from a single colonist. These 12 varieties formed distinct niches, occupying, rocky coasts, lava fields, dry forests, and wet forests. The most common type used for landscaping is Wikstroemia uva-ursi. This plant was used by the Hawaiians for cordage and certain types have a poison that stun fish, but leaves fish safe for consumption.

Hawaiian Hopseed Bush

Scientific name: Dodonaea Viscosa

Hawaiian name: Kumakani, A’Alii

Hawaiians used this tough wood for framework of houyses and for spears and weapons.  This plant requires little water and lives in a wide range of altitudes and conditions. The varying colors of it’s seed caples were used for dying kapa. Interstingly the plants are unisex can produce both male and female flowers.

False Sandal Wood

Scientific Name: Myoporum Sandwicense

Hawaiian name: Naio

In the 1800’s this plant was sold as  sandal wood due to it’s sharp and  similar odor to the prized furniture wood. However, this ploy of using the Naio was soon discovered by importers and further imports were rejected.  Thus  the Naio earned the nickname of False sandal wood and Bastard Sandal Wood. Depending on its location and environment this plant can take many forms. Sometimes it crawls along the ground and at other times it sprouts up to 40ft tall trees.

Beach Naupaka

Scientific name: Scaevola sericea

Hawaiian name: Naupaka kahakai

Commonly known as the Beach Naupaka, this hardy plant can survive in harsh dry sunny conditions. The Naupaka’s white seeds can float for months in salt water. One study even suggested that the Beach Naupaka germinates best after 250 days in salt water.  The Hawaiian legend about this unique 1/2 flower shape can be seen here. Modern day Snorkelers often crack the leaves open  and rub the juice on their googles to prevent fogging