Hawaiian Names with Diacritics
- Kauila māhu
- Kauila mahu
- Common cheirodendron
- Aralia trigyna
- Cheirodendron gaudichaudii
- Cheirodendron helleri
- Hedera gaudichaudii
- Panax (?) gaudichaudii
- Panax (?) ovatum
Endangered Species Status
Plant Form / Growth Habit
Mature Size, Height (in feet)
- Tree, Small, 15 to 30
- Tree, Medium, 30 to 50
Long lived (Greater than 5 years)
Source of Fragrance
Additional Fragrance Information
The bark and leaves have a strong odor like carrot or a spicy or turpentine taste. 
Plant Produces Flowers
- Medium Green
Additional Pest & Disease Information
Ants are common pests often occuring at the base of the tree, which can weaken the tree.
Weeds can take up much needed moisture intended for the plant.
Soil must be well drained
- Partial sun
Slow growing trees.
Special Growing Needs
These are trees and prefer cooler, higher growing conditions. Do not plant trees too deep. Burying the lower portion of the trunk can cause it to die.
Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)
- 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)
Additional Habitat Information
The subspecies helleri is found only on Kauaʻi in mesic and wet forest from about 1445 to over 4100 feet.
The subspecies trigynum is found in mesic and wet forest from just over 1000 to over 7100 feet on all the other main islands except Kauaʻi and Kahoʻolawe.
Cheirodendron belongs to the Araliaceae or Ginseng family. Except for one species found in the Marquesas (C. bastardianum), the genus Cheirodendron, with six species, are found only in Hawaiʻi.
Cheirodendron trigynum is the most variable in the genus.
The generic name Cheirodendron is from the Greek cheiros, hand, and dendron, tree in reference to leaflets arranged like a five-fingered hand. However, some forms or varieties have more or less leaflets.
The specific epithet trigynum is derived from the Greek tri-, three, and gynos, ovary in reference to the three-part ovary of this species.
ʻŌlapalapa is presumably the onomatopoeia* for the sound made by the leaves as they flutter in the wind.
ʻŌlapa also means to flash or flare up, an uneasy rumble such as a queasy stomach. Another meaning is a dancer accompanied by chanting or drumming.
The name ʻōlapa is another name for the fish āholehole. 
* The use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
The fruit is, or was, a source of food for many native birds such as ʻōmaʻo, a native thrush, and also ʻōʻō and ʻōʻū, two honeycreepers now quite likely extinct. 
Early Hawaiian Use
The wood was also used in placing pāpala kēpau (Pisonia spp.) gum on branches higher and farther out that one can reach easily. The gum was used to trap birds. 
The bark was also used for scenting kapa (tapa), which can have an unpleasant odor.  Specifically, ʻōlapa bark and kūpaoa (Dubautia spp.) was used to scent māmaki kapa. 
Early Hawaiians used the fruit, leaves and bark of ʻōlapa to produce a bluish-black dye. [1,6,9]
The term for Hawaiian dancers is also ʻōlapa. Hula dancers were divided into two groups, ʻōlapa and hoʻopaʻa. The ʻōlapa dancers, perhaps because their movements were like like the fluttering of ʻōlapa trees. The hoʻopaʻa stayed in one place, chanting and playing musical instruments. 
Distinctive lei are made from the leaves. One older source (Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré,1819) states that Hawaiians "used all fragrant plants, all flowers and even colored fruits" for lei making. The red or yellow were indicative of divine and cheifly rank; the purple flowers and fruit, or with fragrance, were associated with divinety. Because of their long-standing place in oral tradition, the leaves of ʻōlapa (C. trigynum) were likely used for lei making by early Hawaiians, even though there are no written sources. [2,9] Too, a reputable contemporary source, Kepā Maly, also notes its traditional use for lei. [Kepā Maly, Lānaʻi Culture & Heritage Center]
The inner bark was mixed with other plants and used for pūhō (abscess, burst sore, ulcer), pala (infected boil), and ʻaʻai ʻinoʻino (spreading sore, infection or cancer). [3,4,6]
ʻŌlapa (Cheirodendron spp.) wood was among the materials for making battle spears. 
The wood is pale yellow without distinctive heartwood. It is moderately heavy and somewhat dense and burns even when green. 
 "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 66, 77.
 "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages XIV-XV, 122-123.
 "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 80.
 Hawaiian Ethnobotany Online Database http://www2.bishopmuseum.org/ethnobotanydb/index.asp
 East Maui Watershed Partnership http://eastmauiwatershed.org/Plants/Plants.htm [Accessed 11/29/10]
 "Auwahi: Ethnobotany of a Hawaiian Dryland Forest" by A.C. Medeiros, C.F. Davenport & C.G. Chimera, page 15.
 "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 58, 106, 111.
 http://wehewehe.org [Accessed on 10/04/11]
 "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 258.
Back to Plant List
Other Nursery Profiles for Cheirodendron trigynum