Here on Hawai‘i Island we know this little plant as kupali‘i, however, many people know it as ‘ala ‘ala wai nui or the spurflower. This indigenous member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family can be found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands except Kaho‘olawe and is found in Hawai‘i and other parts of Polynesia and Australia as well. These perennial herbs typically have thick, fleshy leaves that are covered in hairs and have scalloped edges. The leaves can be light to dark green and are often observed having a purple color towards the periphery. When broken or crushed, the leaves will have a faint lemon-like scent to them! The flowers appear as small purple structures along a raceme, and once pollinated, will mature into a “toothy” brown fruit. Typically not growing past a few inches tall, kupali‘i is commonly found in rocky landscapes from sea level to nearly 4,300 ft. elevation.
Kupali‘i is a very easy plant to grow and maintain. It grows so readily that it can often become weedy and is frequently observed as a common nursery weed. Once established, they can tolerate a fair amount of drought-like conditions, but they look their best when they are watered and in the shade. Kupali‘i can grow in most types of soils, including sand, cinder, clay, organic, or coral.
Both historically and in modern times, kupali‘i has been used to make beautiful and wonderfully fragrant lei. The plants themselves are somewhat small, so fashioning a kupali‘i lei may take a while, but their thick leaves will help the lei last for a long time!
- Lilleeng-Rosenberger, Kerin E. Growing Hawai‘i’s native plants: a simple step-by-step approach for every species. Honolulu, Hawai‘i: Mutual Pub., 2005.
- Wagner, Warren L., Derral R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaii. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.