Hō‘awa grows as a shrub to small tree with beautifully thick foliage, pleasantly scented flowers, and strikingly beautiful fruit. Growing from approximately 500’ to nearly 7500’ elevation, and containing a dozen species of this genera native to Hawai‘i, Hō‘awa is well suited for nearly any environment in the islands. The leaves are a lush dark green, with varieties ranging from smooth to covered in light brown/reddish hairs and oftentimes easily distinguished by their acuminate leaf tips (The tip of the leaf gradually and concavely tapering to a narrow, sharp point). The flowers can be perfect or imperfect and are typically a cream to white color and are very fragrant! Perhaps the most notable feature of the Hō‘awa are the large, walnut-shaped fruits that open up to reveal a bright orange interior with small glossy black seeds inside. Observers have noted the ‘Alala (Hawaiian Crow), feeding on the fruits of Hō’awa are one of the few native birds that were capable of dispersing such a large fruit.
In the landscape setting, hō‘awa makes for the perfect specimen plant, hedge, or screening plant and is a great replacement for any non-native Pittosproaceae ornamentals. They are lush and green throughout the year and depending on the species, have aromatic flowers that will delight the senses night or day. Hō‘awa is a drought tolerant plant that prefers cinder or organic soils, and does well in full or partial sunlight. Once planted, the roots are known to be quite sensitive, so try and disturb them as little as possible.
Historically, the wood of the hō‘awa was used by Hawaiians to make the gunwales (the upper railing/ edge) of their canoes, and the fruits were pounded and used medicinally to treat external sores.
- 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.