Cheirodendron trigynum

leaf Main Plant Information






  • helleri
  • trigynum

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Ehu
  • Kauila māhu
  • Lapalapa
  • Māhu
  • ʻŌlapa
  • ʻŌlapalapa

Hawaiian Names

  • Ehu
  • Kauila mahu
  • Lapalapa
  • Mahu
  • Olapa
  • Olapalapa

Common Names

  • Common cheirodendron


  • Aralia trigyna
  • Cheirodendron gaudichaudii
  • Cheirodendron helleri
  • Hedera gaudichaudii
  • Panax (?) gaudichaudii
  • Panax (?) ovatum

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

Source of Fragrance

  • Leaves
  • Wood

Additional Fragrance Information

The bark and leaves have a strong odor like carrot or a spicy or turpentine taste. [9]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

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.

leaf Growth Requirements

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Partial sun
  • Shade


  • Cinder
  • Organic


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.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

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)


  • Terrestrial

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.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

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.

Hawaiian Names:

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. [8]


* The use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.

Background Information

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. [9]

Early Hawaiian Use

Bird Catching:

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. [7]


The bark was also used for scenting kapa (tapa), which can have an unpleasant odor. [5] Specifically, ʻōlapa bark and kūpaoa (Dubautia spp.) was used to scent māmaki kapa. [7]


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. [9]


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. [7]

Modern Use

The wood is pale yellow without distinctive heartwood. It is moderately heavy and somewhat dense and burns even when green. [9]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 66, 77.

[2] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages XIV-XV, 122-123.

[3] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 80.

[4] Hawaiian Ethnobotany Online Database

[5] East Maui Watershed Partnership [Accessed 11/29/10]

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

[7] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 58, 106, 111.

[8] [Accessed on 10/04/11]

[9] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 258.



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