Colubrina oppositifolia

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Kauila
  • Kauwila

Hawaiian Names

  • Kauila
  • Kauwila

Did You Know…?

Kauila is one of the hardest of all native woods and used in place of metal, which was unknown among the early Hawaiians. In fact, it is so dense it will sink in water.

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

Federally Listed

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
  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

These are wonderful native trees for the xeric or mesic type landscape. There is some variation among the Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island forms, but both seem to be easy to grow with little care after establishement.

The black twig borer is a serious pest for kauila and will need vigilance to keep in check. Watch for signs of twigs and stems dying back and take immediate steps to correct the situation.

Planting site should have very good drainage. Ammend with cinder or other suitable material as needed. Once kauila is established, cut back on watering. Too much water will tend to produce water shoots from the base of the trunk and the tree will take on a more shrubby appearance. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White
  • Yellow

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

In cultivation some trees appear to be nearly constantly in flower and fruiting. The ripe, woody brown seed pods are dehiscent (explosive!) and can scatter seeds several feet away. Seed pods often remain on the tree for many months.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium
  • Coarse

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Black twig borer can be a serious problem and must be controlled when first signs of twigs dying back. Whitefly congregate under leaves at can soon overwhelm small trees. A spray of water can usually controll them.

leaf Growth Requirements


Apply 13-13-13 slow release fertilize every six months for young trees.

Pruning Information

Will tolerate some pruning especially to remove water shoots.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Once established do not over water kauila. A sign of too much water are the formation of new water shoots near base of the trunk.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Oʻahu
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

The very few trees left in the wild are restricted to remnant dry to mesic forests on Oʻahu (Waiʻanae Mts.), West Maui (Honokowai), and leeward Hawaiʻi Island from about 785 to nearly 3020 feet.

On West Maui, it is represented by a single individual.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Kauila belongs to the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae) which include other native members ʻānapanapa (Colubrina asiatica), kauila or kauwila (Alphitonia ponderosa), and three endangered species of Gouania.


The generic name is derived from the Latin coluber, snake or like a serpent, referring to the snake-like stems or stamens. [6]

The Latin specific name oppositifolia refers to the opposite leaf (-folia) arrangement found in this species.

Hawaiian Names:

The names Kauila and Kauwila are different spellings both for this species and its close relative Alphitonia ponderosa.

Background Information

Kauila (Colubrina oppositifolia) is one of the hardest of all native woods and used in place of metal, which was unknown among the early Hawaiians. In fact, it is so dense it will sink in water. J.F. Rock notes it being even harder than its close relative kauwila or kauila (Alphitonia pondersoa). [3,8]

Early Hawaiian Use

Early Hawaiians used the heavy, durable wood of kauila to make farming tools, handles for stone chisels, pegs for repairing bowls, digging sticks (ʻōʻō), carrying poles, tall poles for banners, kāhili poles (royal feather stands), netting needles or shuttles, kapa beaters and grooving tools, prepping boards for kapa (lāʻau kahi wauke), war clubs, spears and daggers, and bait sticks for fishing. [2,7,8,9]

Kauila leaves and bark produce a bluish dye for kapa. [1]

Games & Sports:
Kauila wood was also fashioned into spears for the games of spear throwing (ʻōʻō ihe) and spear fencing (kaka lāʻau). The only use of the bow and arrows was for a sport called pana ʻiole (rat shoot). Though the bow was made from an unidentified wood, the arrows were made of kō (sugarcane) and tipped with bone or kauila wood. [1]

The sport of sledding or hōlua was reserved for young men and women aliʻi. The sled runners were made from kauila. [1]


The wood was also crafted into musical instruments, such as hula sticks (ka lāʻau), and was the preferred wood for muscial bows called ʻūkēkē. [1,4]


Kauila were used for kūhewa (stroke, as of heart failure, apoplexy). [5]


* NOTE: Both species of kauila or kauwila, Alphitonia pondersoa and Colubrina oppositifolia, were used and also called by the same name by early Hawaiians. When the wood is freshly cut, Colubrina oppositifolia has a yellowish sapwood and a light, reddish brown heartwood; Alphitonia pondersoa has red wood throughout with a light sapwood and a dark heartwood. Unfortunately, since both appear the same when dried the color differences fade over the years and can create confusion as to which species was used for particular carvings in some cases. [4]

Modern Use

Kauila wood is very rare and is protected as a federally endangered species, which makes the wood difficult to acquire for woodworking and other uses. The wood does polish to a rich reddish-brown. [9]

These beautiful trees are occasionally seen in modern landscaping.

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 25, 35, 45, 61, 63, 65, 70, 80, 85, 95, 97-98.
[2] "Arts and Crafts of Hawaii" by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), pages 12, 14, 38, 43, 170, 408-409, 418, 425 440.
[3] "The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands" by J.F. Rock, page 283.

[4] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi--Traditonal Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 11-12.

[5] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 58.

[6] "CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: A-C" by Umberto Quattrocchi, page 558.

[7] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, pages 79, 112, 168.

[8] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 541.

[9] "Kōlea--News from the Conservation Council for Hawaiʻi," Vol. 61, Issues 1 & 2, page 9.



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