Broussaisia arguta

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Akiahala
  • Kanawao
  • Kanawao keʻokeʻo
  • Kanawao ʻulaʻula
  • Kanawau
  • Kupuwao
  • Piʻohiʻa
  • Pūʻahanui

Hawaiian Names

  • Akiahala
  • Kanawao
  • Kanawao keokeo
  • Kanawao ulaula
  • Kanawau
  • Kupuwao
  • Piohia
  • Puahanui

Names with Unknown Sources

  • Hawaiian hydrangea

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10

Mature Size, Width

Kanawao can have a spread about ten feet or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent

Additional Landscape Use Information

Although kanawao are rather common in suitable natural habitats, they have rarely been used in home landscapes or seen in botanical gardens.

Though seeds do readily germinate, they are challenging to grow to maturity. At low elevations plants appear stressed. Perhaps lower elevation plantings and/or altered habitats may have much to do with the success of this wonderful endemic species. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • Greenish-White
  • Light Blue
  • Pink
  • White
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Though not as dramatic as their cultivated cousin the hydrangeas, kanawao, nonetheless, have a beautiful floral display with a dazzling variety of colors: lavender, greenish blue, pink to greenish white, yellow, or cream-colored. Often several color forms can be found growing in the same general area.

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Male and female flowers appear on separate (dioecious) plants. After flowering, female plants produce clusters of red to maroon or purple fruits.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

The leaves are leathery with pronounced veins and slightly toothed edges. The midrib (center) can be white, orangish, or pinkish to reddish in color.

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Slugs, snails, ants.

leaf Growth Requirements


Every six months use a 8-8-8 fertilzer. Foliar feed monthly.

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Partial sun

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Kanawao is commonly found in wet forests, and occasionally in mesic forests from about 985 to over 6,700 feet.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Kanawao is the only native representative belonging to the Hydrangea family (Hydrangeaceae) in the islands.

Broussaisia arguta belongs to an endemic monotypic genus, that is, a genus having only one species. Other endemic examples of a monotypic genus in the Hawaiian Islands can be found in a native begonia called pua maka nui (Hillebrandia sandwicensis), kanaloa (Kanaloa kahoolawensis), olonā (Touchardia latifolia), and a tall species of grass (Dissochondrus biflorus).


Tha generic name Broussaisia was named in behalf of François-Joseph-Victor Broussais (1772-1838), a celebrated French physician and psycologist.

The specific epithet arguta means "sharp or sharp-tooted," likely referring to the sharp edges of the kanawao leaves.

Hawaiian Names:

The Hawaiian name for hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) is pōpōhau, meaning "snowball." [4]

The names nawao and puʻahaʻnui (likely misspelled) used by one source, are not used by Pukui & Elbert for this species. [4,8]

Background Information

Many native and introduced birds like to eat the fruits thus aiding in the spreading this common shrub throughout the native forests. Native birds known to eat kanawao flowers and/or fruits are poʻo uli, Maui parrotbill, ʻōʻū, ʻākohekohe, and ʻāmakihi (Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi). [3]

The underside leaves of kanawao or pūʻahanui is a great place to look for the tiny endemic Happy face spiders or nananana makakiʻi (Theridion grallator). [7]

Early Hawaiian Use


The fruits and flowers were eaten by early Hawaiians. [6]


An old belief was that eating the fruit with baked eggs would help women to conceive. [1,2, 5] The Hawaiian saying of kanawao is "the fruit that gives birth to chiefs." The fruit were eaten from conception until child could feed itself to increase survival rate. [5] The thick prickly leaves were used to induce vomiting. [6]

Apparently, there were prohibitions in eating certain types of kanawao. Keʻokeʻo kāne was reserved for men, but young girls were permitted to eat of the plant as well. ʻUlaʻula wahine was reserved women and children. It was used to treat ʻea (thrush) and pāʻaoʻao (childhood disease, physical weakening). [6]

Additional References

[1] Hawaiian Dictionaries [Accessed on 3/29/10]

[2] Volcano Art Center, Niaulani Plant Guide, page 3. [Accessed 3/29/10]

[3] "The Hawaiian Honeycreeper: Drepandidae" by Douglas Pratt, pages 17, 130, 131, 135, 136.

[4] Hawaiian Dictionaries [Accessed 3/30/10]

[5] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value, by D.M. Kaaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 48.

[6] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, pages 57-58.

[7] "Hawai'i's Plants and Animals--Biological Sketches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park" by Charles P. Stone & Linda W. Pratt, page 231.

[8] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 134.



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