Alahe’e is a member of the Rubiaceae (Coffee) family that grows as a large shrub to small tree with beautiful, dark-green foliage. When mature, heights can range from 10 to 30 feet. Alahe’e is known to exist from about 30’ elevation to 3800’, in a variety of different habitats including shrubland, dry, mesic, and wet forest. The glossy, dark green leaves are arranged oppositely along the stems and flower clusters appear sporadically throughout the year (but usually in winter), all along the stems. The flowers are a stark white and are typically very fragrant and pleasant smelling. Once pollinated, a purple fruit will develop.
This long-lived native species can be slow to grow, but it requires very little maintenance once established. Alahe’e can make for a great specimen tree, privacy hedge, screening plant, or accent in the home landscape. The green foliage looks great all throughout the year, even during the dry summer months, and the appearance and fragrance of the flowers are truly a thing of beauty. It can tolerate a variety of conditions from drought to excess moisture, but make sure the soil is well-draining if planting in the latter. When growing in a pot, keep the alahe’e shaded, but once planted, they do best in full sun.
Alahe’e is well-known for its durable hardwood and was utilized for making many traditional implements such as spears, fish hooks, and nets. The small flowers can be incorporated into lei, and the leaves can be used to make a dark brown/black dye.
- Wagner, W. L., Herbst, D. R., and S. H. Sohmer. 1999. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai`i. Revised Edition. Volume 2. Bishop Museum Special Publication 97. University of Hawai`i Press, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawai`i.