Cladium jamaicense

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • ʻUki

Hawaiian Names

  • Uki

Common Names

  • Jamaica sawgrass
  • Saw Grass
  • Saw-grass
  • Sawgrass


  • Cladium leptostachyum
  • Cladium mariscus subsp. jamaicense
  • Mariscus jamaicensis

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Clumping

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Grass-like, Tall, Greater than or equal to 2.5

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Erosion Control
  • Screening
  • Water Features

Additional Landscape Use Information

An awesome and large indigenous sedge especially for suited for natural settings. ʻUki does well in very well in wet soils or with the root mass submerged in water in natural or manmade water features.

Because of it's height of about ten feet, this water-loving sedge can be used as a type of screen in and around ponds. They have a large root mass and can be used to hold soils preventing erosion.

CAUTION: Due to the very sharp leaves, it is best to keep plants away from foot traffic areas. Be careful when handling these plants!

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Brownish
  • White

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Achenes (seeds) are brown and ovoid (egg-shaped).

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

As is often mentioned in this plant profile, this sedges has sharp edges.

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Few pests seem to bother these plants. Occasionally, mealybugs and whiteflies can be a nuisance.

leaf Growth Requirements

Water Requirements

  • Wet

Additional Water Information

ʻUki goes through a wet/dry period in nature. But it is not necessary to observe the dry period under cultivation.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Full sun with good moisture seems to be best for optimal growth.


  • Waterlogged Soil
  • Drought
  • Brackish Water
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat


  • Clay
  • Organic


The leaf edges are very sharp, hence the apropos name sawgrass. Use caution when handling this sedge.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • Less than 150, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)


  • Aquatic
  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Widely distributed throughout the New World, many Pacific Islands, and Asia. In the Hawaiian islands, it occurs in wet sites such as marshes, seeps, along streams, and in fresh water or brackish ponds from sea level to 300 or feet.

Sawgrass, or ʻuki, is "considered to be indigenous to the the Hawiian Islands where it dominates a considerable portion of the largest marsh in...the Kawai Nui (Kawainui) Marsh" on Oʻahu--the largest wetlands in the Hawaiian Islands. [1]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Cladium belong to the Sedge family or Cyperaceae. A genus of four species are known, with one species indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands.


The generic name Cladium is derived from kladion, a small branch, in reference to the shape of the plants.

The specific epithet jamaicense is derived from the island of Jamaica.

Background Information

Sawgrass is one of the principle plants in the Everglades, Florida where it provides food and shelter for waterbirds and native animals, including alligators. Sawgrass is so dominant that it has been referred to in the Everglades as the "River of Grass." [1,2]

"Because of the sharp, saw-like serrulations on the blades, dense beds of sawgrass can be dangerous to attempt to navigate through (the blades easily cut flesh)." [1]


Early Hawaiian Use

Captain Cook's artist John Webber sketched canoes paddlers wearing gourd (ipu) masks, [3,4] as well as a closeup portrait of man wearing and ipu mask. [5] These masks were  decorated with strips of kapa that hung down to conceal the chin and giving the appearance of a beard. The masks also had a crest resembling feathers which some are quite certain was ʻuki (Cladium spp.). This may have been Cladium jamaicense or an another indigenous species now referred to as Machaerina angustifolia [syn. Cladium angustifolia], or possibly the native fern pala (Marattia douglasii). [3,4,5]

Isabella Aiona Abbott notes: "Apparently the stems were trimmed and fitted to resemble brown hair and were anchored on the inside of the gourd in some way. Given that on his first voyage Cook reached Hawaiʻi during Makahiki, it is possible that this unique headgear was part of that religious observance. The ipu was a kinolau of Lono, the god that was the focus of Makahiki, and these men wearing the ipu may well have been kahuna pule o Lono." [5]

Modern Use

ʻUki has been used for dried bouquets. [4]

Additional References

[1] [Accessed 8/30/10]

[2] "Hawaiʻi Wetland Field Guide" by Terrell A. Erickson and Christopher F. Puttock, page

[3] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, page 73.

[4] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 89.

[5] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 116.



leafMore Links

Back to Plant List

Plant List

Other Nursery Profiles for Cladium jamaicense