Cibotium chamissoi

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Hāpuʻu
  • Hāpuʻu meu
  • Hāpuʻupuʻu
  • Pepeʻe

Hawaiian Names

  • Hapuu
  • Hapuu meu
  • Hapuupuu
  • Pepee

Common Names

  • Chamisso's tree fern
  • Hawaiian tree fern


  • Cibotium hawaiense
  • Cibotium menziesii
  • Cibotium splendens
  • Dicksonia splendens
  • Pinonia splendens

Names with Unknown Sources

  • Chamisso's manfern

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Partially Woody / Shrub-like

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Fern/Fern-like, Tall, Greater than 3

Mature Size, Width

This hāpuʻu has an 8 to 15 or more foot spread.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Screening

Additional Landscape Use Information

Hāpuʻu is a excellent understory plant for the landscape to help control erosion. Plant in slightly acidic and well drained soil. Use in place of the highly invasive Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) which escapes gardens into forests and competes with native plants including hāpuʻu.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

These hāpuʻu have cobweb-like mustard to reddish brown hairs at the base of the fronds only. The remainder of the frond are void of hairs.

The undersides of the fronds or leaves are light green and clothed with tan, cobwebby hairs.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Hāpuʻu is known to be eaten by feral pigs. Termites are a potential problem.

leaf Growth Requirements


Apply a slow release fertilizer for plants in pots every six months. For larger potted ferns showing poor color or not producing crosiers (fiddleheads or emerging fronds), use a complete fertilizer at half the recommended strength. Do not till solid fertilizers into soil because ferns have a shallow root system. [1]

Pruning Information

This hāpuʻu has a tendency to form a natural skirt of fronds, which is a distinguishable characteristic in its natural habitat. Prune old fronds in landscape settings for a clean look or leave as is for a natural appearance. Do not prune emerging fronds (fiddles).

Water Requirements

  • Moist
  • Wet

Additional Water Information

Hāpuʻu can tolerate both moist and wet conditions and appreciates being watered on emerging fiddles, fronds and on the trunk. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Partial sun
  • Shade

Additional Lighting Information

Partial sun or shaded locations are best, but tolerates full sun in upland cooler environments.


  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Hāpuʻu is very slow growing. Get the trunks at the height that you will need for your landscape. In other words, do not expect to get a 4-foot hāpuʻu hoping that it will grow to 6 feet in your lifetime. [11]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • 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)


  • Epiphyte
  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

This hāpuʻu (Cibotium chamissoi) occurs in mesic to wet forests from about 490 to over 3900 feet, but less common above 2625 feet. Occasinally, they can be found as low as 1640 feet. 

While uncommon on the other islands, this hāpuʻu is common on Oʻahu, often being the only hāpuʻu species in an area. Plants grow in mesic to wet forests. It is usually the first tree fern seen when ascending ridges on Oʻahu to be joined by hāpuʻu ʻiʻi (C. menziesii), where the two occasionally hybridize. Then, there is a gap where tree ferns are few or absent, followed by a dominance of hāpuʻu pulu (C. glaucum) at higher elevations.

This species is naturally not found on Kauaʻi, Niʻihau, and Kahoʻolawe.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Cibotium belong to the family Cibotiaceae. [6] Worldwide there are nine species of Cibotium, four of which are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. [13]


The generic name Cibotium is from the Greek kibotion, diminutive of kibotos, a box or casket, in reference to the indusium, a part of the fern blade that covers the sorus (spores).

The specific name, chamissoi, named for Ludolf Karl Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838), French-born German explorer, naturalist, author, poet, and plant collector.

Hawaiian Names:

The Hawaiian species are best known by the name hāpuʻu collectively, though the early Hawaiians assigned names to different species.

The name heiʻi is used by one source for this species. [9] However, Pukui & Elbert do not use this name for this species. [10]

In modern times to help with the proper pronunciation, hāpuʻu should be spelled with a kahakō over the "a." [7,8]

Background Information

Wild pigs (puaʻa) have had a severe effect on hāpuʻu populations in some areas, eating the entire starchy inner core thus destroying the plants and leaving a trough for breeding mosquitoes. [7] As long as the growing fronds or fiddles are not destroyed, the ferns can continue to grow. [9]

A natural hybrid Cibotium chamissoi x C. menziesii, named C. x heleniae after fern expert Daniel A. Palmer's wife, Helen, is intermediate in character between the two parents. This hybrid occurs on most  leeward ridges and the bases of windward cliffs, Koʻolau Range and Mt. Kaʻala, Waiʻanae Range, Oʻahu. It is probably found on other islands where to the two species coexist.

The pulu ("wool") is used as nest lining by Hawaiian honeycreepers. [7]

A vernacular name used is Chamisso's tree fern. [12]

Early Hawaiian Use

ʻŌhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha) seedlings are often seen growing from the moist debris collected on hāpuʻu. The roots go down to the ground. Thus, some early Hawaiians believed tree ferns were the parents of ʻōhiʻa. [9]


Hawaiians, both long ago as well as in recent times, ate the uncoiled fronds (fiddles), which were considered delicious when boiled. Likely the starchy core of this species, as with hāpuʻu pulu and hāpuʻu ʻiʻi, was used as an important famine food. [2,3] One trunk may contain 50-70 pounds of almost pure starch and would have been used for human consumption, while young stems were fed to pigs. [2,12] It was prepared by peeling the young fronds or placing the entire trunk with the starchy center in an ʻimu or in steam vents at the volcano. [4]

The saying was "He hāpuʻu ka ʻai he ai make" (If the hāpuʻu is the food, it is the food of death).


The pulu, the soft woolly material around the base of the fronds, was used by Hawaiians up to the mid-1800s for dressing wounds, embalming bodies,* and for pillow and mattress stuffing. [5] The outside "skin" of the partly uncurled fronds (pepeʻe) was used to make hats (pāpale). [12]

Tall hāpuʻu were cut down to gather the pulu more easily. Since hāpuʻu trunks are basically an entire root structure in themselves, many of the hāpuʻu that were cut down usually grew back with minimal damage to forest populations.


* The embalming procedure is described by Beatrice Krauss. She writes:

"According to Degener, pulu was used for embalming dead. Corpses were first deviscerated (throat, tongue, brain, and abdominal organs); cavities resulting from this operation were then tightly stuffed with pulu, and sewed up with olona cordage. Body was then wrapped in black tapa, and allowed to remain for eight months. Then the body was placed in cave whose mouth was sealed with rock wall and/or cement-like volcanic ash, or buried in ground, with mound of stones placed over it." [12]

Modern Use

Young stems were formerly used to make hats.

Beginnning around 1850, pulu was shipped to the mainland for mattress and pillow stuffing. By 1869, almost 623,000 pounds had been exported. But the industry ended in 1885, which stopped the harvesting of hāpuʻu in large quantities. However, around 1920 an industry was started to produce starch for laundry and cooking. Once again, an assault began on the tree fern forests. Fortunately, it was soon halted. [12]

The starchy trunk core has been used for cooking and laundry and the outer fibrous part, to line or form baskets for plants.

Recent use of hāpuʻu has been as orchid and anthurium growing media.

Hāpuʻu (Cibotium spp.) has been used in home and commercial landscapes for many years. As a result some fine specimens seen in older residents and commercial establishments are decades old now. A testimony to their resilience as a faithful and time-tested landscape plant.

Additional References

[1] Kay Lynch, Lāʻau Hawaiʻi

[2] "Native Planters in Old Hawaii--Their Life, Lore, & Environment" by E. S. Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy, page 235.

[3] "Arts and Crafts of Hawaii" by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), page 6.

[4] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, page 128.

[5] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 74.

[6] Taxonomic changes in Hawaiian ferns and lycophytes. Records of the Hawaii Biological Survey for 2009–2010, page 12.

[7] "The Hawaiian Honeycreeper: Drapandidae" by H. Douglas Pratt, page 153, 178.

[8] [Accessed on 10/21/11]

[9] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 33.

[10] Hawaiian Dictionaries online [Accessed 11/16/11]

[11] "How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden" by Kenneth M. Nagata, page "Hāpuʻu."

[12] "Ethnobotany of Hawaii" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 78, 79.

[13] "Molecular Phylogenetic Relationships of Cibotium and Origin of the Hawaiian Endemics" by American Fern Journal 103(3):141–152 (2013)



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