This article by Jodie Rosam was featured in The Kaʻū Calendar News Briefs on November 14, 2021.

Pāhala, Hawaiʻi

Welcome to Lāʻau Letters: Native Plants of Kaʻū. Read about Kaʻū’s native plants and their moʻolelo (stories), uses, preferred habitats, and opportunities to adopt them for stewardship. This column seeks to encourage making new plant friends and to reunite with others.

Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka (Jacquemontia sandwicensis)    

Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka

Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka painting by Joan Yoshioka.

Description: Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka is an endemic species in the Convolvulaceae (Morning glory) family, a cousin to koali ʻai, koali ʻawa, pōhuehue, kaunaʻoa, and a few others. The light green leaves are elliptical-shaped, about 1.5-2.5 inches long, and are often covered in tiny white hairs, giving the leaves a silvery appearance, and also aiding in their survival during drought conditions. The flowers are small, but are a beautiful white or pale blue color which bloom year round. This lāʻau is named from a story in which Pele left her baby sister Hiʻiaka on the beach while she went surfing. The sun’s rays were strong and baby Hiʻiaka had fallen asleep as she waited for her sister. A nearby vine saw what was happening to Hiʻiaka’s gentle skin, and grew over her to protect her from the sun. When Pele found Hiʻiaka covered in the silvery leaves, she thanked the vine for protecting her sister, and named it Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka, or the “Skirt of Hiʻiaka”. 

Uses: The dried leaves of pāʻū o Hiʻiaka are edible, and were often made into tea or mixed with niu (coconut) and eaten. The vine was used medicinally in babies to treat ʻea (thrush) and pāʻaoʻao (general weakness), and in adults to treat lepo paʻa (constipation). It was mixed with kalo (taro) leaves and salt to aid in the healing of cuts and abrasions. In addition, when other fibers were not available, the vines were braided and used as lashing.

Habitat: Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka thrive in a variety of substrates, especially harsh and rocky areas along dry (leeward) coastlines where rainfall is below 50 mm annually. The vines can be found on all islands, and are most commonly seen below 5o’ elevation. In Kaʻū, pāʻū o Hiʻiaka can be seen in abundance along the rocky shorelines from Waiʻōhinu Ahupuaʻa to Kaunāmano Ahupuaʻa.

Growing and Purchasing: Pāʻū o Hiʻiaka roots easily from cuttings, with or without a rooting hormone. Roots will develop within a week, though it will take about 4-6 weeks until the cutting is a self-sufficient new plant. A slow release or diluted liquid fertilizer will ensure your plant has vigorous growth and blooms. Some anecdotal evidence suggests occasionally misting them with seawater is helpful, which can act as a natural fertilizer and a gentle defense against pests. Because of the node-rooting tendrils, it is useful for erosion control on a slope or flood zone. It is also an excellent choice to plant in poor soil, dry locations, sites prone to salt spray, and over rocks. Imagine pāʻū o Hiʻiaka spilling over a rock wall with ʻilima papa as a companion, or in a large hanging basket! Wherever they go, be sure they have full sun, avoid the urge to overwater them, and enjoy the pāʻū this plant provides.

Mahalo to Jodie Rosam with Pūlama Mau Environmental Consulting (and part-time HWF team member) and Julia Neal with The Kaʻū Calendar for allowing us to share this story!  Big thanks to Joan Yoshioka for contributing her paintings for this monthly column.

Photos of the contributors, Jodie (left) and Joan (right) –>