Capparis sandwichiana

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Maiapilo
  • Pilo
  • Pua pilo
  • Puapili

Hawaiian Names

  • Maiapilo
  • Pilo
  • Pua pilo
  • Puapili

Common Names

  • Caper bush
  • Hawaiian caper
  • Native caper


  • Capparis spinosa var. mariana

Did You Know…?

Though there is no modern use for maiapilo in cooking, the Caper bush (Capparis spinosa), a close relative, is used in Mediterranean cuisine. The small buds, caperberries (immature fruits) and young shoots with leaves are pickled in vinegar or preserved with salt.

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

At Risk

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Partially Woody / Shrub-like

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10

Mature Size, Width

Minimum height to width ration: 15:1. Maiapilo can spread to 6 or more feet.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Ground Cover
  • Hedges
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

For landscapes, maiapilo is a good ground cover or small bush for dry coastal coralline or lava gardens. Some varieties have a sprawling habit, while others are more shrub-like.

Once established, they will grow rapidly and producing flowers. Maiapilo can be fussy growers under cultivation, but are well worth the effort to grow due to the beautiful and wonderfully fragrant flowers.

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers
  • Fruits

Additional Fragrance Information

The fragrance is described as having a lemony scent. [Diana Troutman, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

But the fruits have an unpleasant, pungent smell, described as smelling "like rotten mushrooms"! [8]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • White
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Maiapilo has very showy bright white flowers with 120-180 stamens and lemon yellow centers. The flowers open after sunset and bloom into the early morning hours fading to pink by mid-day.

Blooming Period

  • Sporadic
  • Spring
  • Summer

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

After flowering a single cucumber-like fruit will form.

Some forms apparently bloom almost every night of the year. [8] The ripe pungent fruits attract birds which eat the bright orange pulpy flesh inside along with the dark brown or gray seeds. The thought has been entertained that todays alien birds may unwittingly scatter seeds for regeneration as the now extinct native fruit-eating birds may have done in the past. [1] Red-vented bulbuls seem especially attracted to maiapilo in the wild as well as in the landscape. Keep an eye on the fruits as they turn orangish-yellow when ripening, and protect if needed, because birds have their sharp eyes on them too. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Varied texture. Young leaves are either puberulent (short fine hairs) or glabrous (without hairs) but usually are glabrous with age. Leaves range between 1 to 2 inches.

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Olive or bluish green.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Caterpillars, especially cabbage butterflies, can chew holes along leaf margins giving the leaves an unnatural raggedy look to them. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Growth Requirements


Small amount of 8-8-8 fertilizer when transplanting. A balanced 13-13-13 slow release fertilizer with micro-nutrients can be applied once or twice a year.

Pruning Information

Tolerates trimming or pruning.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Maiapilo will require watering on a regular basis when first planted out in the landscape perhaps for the first month or so until established. Hold off watering during the rainy season. [Bruce Koebele, Kaʻala Farms]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun

Additional Lighting Information

Allow to drain between waterings. Water weekly for a month. Requires little watering after 3 to 4 months.

Spacing Information

3 to 5 feet. Minimum height to width ratio: 1.5:1.


  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Organic
  • Coral


Maiapilo has a habit of unexplained stem death. But considering their beauty and uniqueness, they are worth the effort grow them.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Kahoʻolawe
  • Hawaiʻi
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Maiapilo is generally a coastal plant, usually less than 350 feet above sea level, [5] but occasionally grows inland in dry areas on all the main islands and on Midway Atoll (Pihemanu), Pearl & Hermes Atoll (Holoikauaua) and Laysan (Kauō) in the Northwest Islands.

Plants are also found on some offshore islets such as Popoiʻa (Flat Is.), Oʻahu; Puʻukiʻi and ʻĀlau, Maui; and formerly Keaoi,* Hawaiʻi Island. [9]


* Terrestrial plants are no longer able to grow on Keaoi, following the 1975 earthquake. National Park Service botanists surveyed Keaoi in the 1940s and reported finding 4 native species. Other biologists reported an absence of shrubs, indicating that the rocky substrate, wind, and salt spray allowed only low-growing vegetation to persist. Because it is now awash with waves, traditional threats to terrestrial resources are irrelevant to Keaoi. [9]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Maiapilo is a member of the Capparaceae (or Capparidaceae) or Caper family and the only native Capparis in the Hawaiian Islands.

There seems to some question as to whether the genus Capparis should be placed in the Mustard family (Brassicaceae), or to retain its own family Capparaceae.


The generic name Capparis is from kappari (kάππαρη), the ancient Greek name for this evergreen shrub.

The specific epithet sandwichiana refers to the "Sandwich Islands," as the Hawaiian Islands were once called, and named by James Cook on one of his voyages in the 1770s. James Cook named the islands after John Montagu (The fourth Earl of Sandwich) for supporting Cook's voyages.

Hawaiian Names:

The Hawaiian name maiapilo means "bad smelling banana," likely referring to the scent of banana on some parts of the plant and especially the fruit. The flowers, though, have a wonderful lemony fragrance!

The early Hawaiian common people on Niʻihau referred to the native caper as pilo or puapili, while the chiefs called it maiʻa a Maui, literally "banana of Maui." [4] But perhaps the most recognized name today is maiapilo.

Background Information

Environmentally, maiapilo provides habitat for the rare endemic Blackburn's Sphinx moth (Manduca blackburni) which feed on the nectar of the flowers.

Early Hawaiian Use

The entire plant was apparently used medicinally for healing fractured or broken bones. The whole plant would be pounded and applied to body joints, never to the injured area. [5,7] The milky sap mixed with other ingredients was applied externally to treat boils.

Modern Use

Though there is no recognized modern use for maiapilo in cooking, the Caper bush (Capparis spinosa), a close relative, is used in Mediterranean cuisine. The small buds, caperberries (immature fruits) and young shoots with leaves are pickled in vinegar or preserved with salt. Later they are added to enhance food, as well as providing a rich source of micro-nutrients. [3,6]

Capers have been used for thousands of years in the Mediterranean region to stimulate appetite [2].

Additional References

[1] [accessed 12/2/08]
[2] "Insight on The Scriptures--Volume 1," by the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania, page 410.
[3] [accessed 1/26/09]
[4] "A Chronicle and Flora of Niihau" by Juliet Rice Wichman and Harold St. John, page 90.

[5] [accessed 10/7/09]

[6] [accessed 6/21/10]

[7] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, pages 368-369.

[8] "Back to the Future in Caves of Kauaʻi--A Scientist's Adventures in the Dark" by David A.Burney, pages 108, 121.

[9] Offshore Islet Restoration Committee [Accessed 8/7/13]



leafMore Links

Plant Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Back to Plant List

Plant List

Other Nursery Profiles for Capparis sandwichiana