Charpentiera obovata

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Pāpala

Hawaiian Names

  • Papala

Common Names

  • Broadleaf papala

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Hedges

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Red
  • White
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Tiny yellow or red flowers grow on 5 to 20 branches with 5 to 20 flowers per branch. While the flowers themselves are insignificant, when combined with the yellow or red stems (panicles), pāpala presents a showy display of inflorescence.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves ranges from 1 to 5 inches long.

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Pāpala is prone to aphids, spider mites, root mealy bugs and scale infestations.

leaf Growth Requirements


Pāpala are known to be heavy feeders. An application of a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every 6 months. Foliar feed monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a water-soluble fertilizer with a dilution of one half to one third of recommended strength. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Additional Water Information

Does best with good moisture.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Tolerates full sun, but does best in partial shade.


  • Cinder
  • Organic

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)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Pāpala are known to grow in mesic to sometimes wet forest from over 620 to around 5740 feet.

This pāpala is from Kauaʻi, Oʻahu (Waiʻanae Mountains; Koʻolau Mountains), Lānaʻi, East Molokaʻi, West and East Maui, and Hawaiʻi. It is apparently most abundant in the Waiʻanae Mountains.

Charpentiera obovata is fairly common in parts of the Waiʻanae Mountains. In the Koʻolau Mountains it is rare, and only observed from a single location in Maunawili on the windward (northern) side of the southeastern part of the mountain range and in several locations in Wailupe on the leeward (southern) side of the same part of the mountain range. In the Waiʻanae Mountains C. obovata hybridizes extensively with C. tomentosa, while in the Koʻolau Mountains their ranges are largely non-overlapping. [Joel Lau, Botanist]


leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Pāpala belong to the Amaranth family (Amaranthaceae). There are six species of Charpentiera, five endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and one, C. australis, found in the Austral (Tubuai and Raivavae) and Cook Islands (Rarotonga).

Other native Hawaiian family members include four other species in the same genus Charpentiera, a rare and little known amaranth (Amaranthus brownii) from Nīhoa, ʻāweoweo (Chenopodium oahuense), three species of Achyranthes, and three species of kuluʻī (Nototrichium spp.).



The generic name Charpentiera was given by French botanist Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré (1789-1854) and named in memory of a 19th-century naval pharmacist and professor named Charpentier. [4]

The specific epithet is from the Latin obovata, conidial, in reference the shape to the spoon- to egg-shaped leaves.

Background Information

This species of pāpala (Charpentiera obovata) is a host plant for an endemic long-horned beetle (Plagithmysus elegans).

Early Hawaiian Use

The wood is very light when dried and will burn like paper. [2] The Hawaiian name pāpala originated from a practice on Kauaʻi. Formerly on the north coast of Kauaʻi, Hawaiians most often used the flammable pāpala wood as firebrand. During times when the strong winds swept out to the sea, they would throw burning pieces from cliffs which floated along on the winds. When the fire would reach the center of the wood sparks shot out like fiery rockets in what must have been an impressive display. This sport was called ʻōahi. [1,3]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 95-96.
[2] "The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands" by Joseph F. Rock, page 139.

[3] "Auwahi: Ethnobotany of a Hawaiian Dryland Forest" by A.C. Medeiros, C.F. Davenport & C.G. Chimera, page 15.

[4] "Annales maritimes et coloniales" by Ministère de la marine et des colonies, Volume 2, Part 2, page 953.



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